Unprecedented Detail In Pulsar 6,500 Light-Years From Earth

A team of astronomers has performed one of the highest resolution observations in astronomical history by observing two intense regions of radiation, 20 kilometres apart, around a star 6500 light-years away.

The observation is equivalent to using a telescope on Earth to see a flea on the surface of Pluto.

The extraordinary observation was made possible by the rare geometry and characteristics of a pair of stars orbiting each other. One is a cool, lightweight star called a brown dwarf, which features a “wake” or comet-like tail of gas. The other is an exotic, rapidly spinning star called a pulsar.

“The gas is acting as like a magnifying glass right in front of the pulsar,” says Robert Main, lead author of the paper describing the observation being published May 24 in the journal Nature. “We are essentially looking at the pulsar through a naturally occurring magnifier which periodically allows us to see the two regions separately.”

Main is a PhD astronomy student in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, working with colleagues at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics and Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, and the Perimeter Institute.

The pulsar is a neutron star that rotates rapidly — over 600 times a second. As the pulsar spins, it emits beams of radiation from the two hotspots on its surface. The intense regions of radiation being observed are associated with the beams.

The brown dwarf star is about a third the diameter of the Sun. It is roughly two million kilometres from the pulsar — or five times the distance between the Earth and the moon — and orbits around it in just over 9 hours. The dwarf companion star is tidally locked to the pulsar so that one side always faces its pulsating companion, the way the moon is tidally locked to the Earth.

Because it is so close to the pulsar, the brown dwarf star is blasted by the strong radiation coming from its smaller companion. The intense radiation from the pulsar heats one side of the relatively cool dwarf star to the temperature of our Sun, or some 6000°C.

The blast from the pulsar could ultimately spell its companion’s demise. Pulsars in these types of binary systems are called “black widow” pulsars. Just as a black widow spider eats its mate, it is thought that the pulsar, given the right conditions, could gradually erode gas from the dwarf star until the latter is consumed.

In addition to being an observation of incredibly high resolution, the result could be a clue to the nature of mysterious phenomena known as Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs.

“Many observed properties of FRBs could be explained if they are being amplified by plasma lenses,” say Main. “The properties of the amplified pulses we detected in our study show a remarkable similarity to the bursts from the repeating FRB, suggesting that the repeating FRB may be lensed by plasma in its host galaxy.”

Author: Mitch Battros

Mitch Battros is a scientific journalist who is highly respected in both the scientific and spiritual communities due to his unique ability to bridge the gap between modern science and ancient text. Founded in 1995 – Earth Changes TV was born with Battros as its creator and chief editor for his syndicated television show. In 2003, he switched to a weekly radio show as Earth Changes Media. ECM quickly found its way in becoming a top source for news and discoveries in the scientific fields of astrophysics, space weather, earth science, and ancient text. Seeing the need to venture beyond the Sun-Earth connection, in 2016 Battros advanced his studies which incorporates our galaxy Milky Way - and its seemingly rhythmic cycles directly connected to our Solar System, Sun, and Earth driven by the source of charged particles such as galactic cosmic rays, gamma rays, and solar rays. Now, "Science Of Cycles" is the vehicle which brings the latest cutting-edge discoveries confirming his published Equation.