Binary Pulsar Gives Up Secrets And Then Falls Into a Gravitational Well

Binary Pulsar Gives Up Secrets And Then Falls Into a Gravitational Well

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Astronomers have measured the space-time warp that is produced by the intense gravity exerted by a pair of stars. They also found out the mass of a neutron star before it vanished from the view.

An international team of astronomers managed to measure the space-time warp produced by the intense gravity of a binary star, J1906 and determined the mass of a neutron star — just before it vanished from view.

The pulsar spun and emitted a lighthouse like beam of radio waves every 144 milliseconds. It orbited its companion star in a little under four hours.

Ingrid Stairs, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia, said, “By precisely tracking the motion of the pulsar, we were able to measure the gravitational interaction between the two highly compact stars with extreme precision. These two stars each weigh more than the Sun, but are still over 100 times closer together than the Earth is to the Sun. The resulting extreme gravity causes many remarkable effects.

Astronomers used the general relativity theory to explain the neuron star’s behavior. According to general relativity, the neutron star wobbles like a spinning top as it moves through the gravitational well of a massive, nearby companion star. Orbit after orbit, the pulsar travels through a space-time, which is curved. This impacts the star’s spin axis.

Study researcher Joeri van Leeuwen, an astrophysicist from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, said that because the spin axis of the pulsar has wobbled so much, the pulsar can no longer be seen even by the most powerful telescopes on Earth. It could take about 160 years before the pulsar would wobble back into view.

“Through the effects of the immense mutual gravitational pull, the spin axis of the pulsar has now wobbled so much that the beams no longer hit Earth,” added Joeri van Leeuwen .

Astronomers have only measured the mass of only a handful of double neutron stars. J1960 is the youngest of all the double neuron stars to ever have been measured. It is located 25,000 light years from the Earth.