For the first time, astronomers have caught a pulsar in the act of change; transforming its energy signature from a rhythmically beating radio heartbeat to a bursting X-ray sprayer that will eventually spin faster than a dentist’s drill.
Researchers have been looking for just such a morphing pulsar for more than ten years.
18,000 light years out from Earth, in the constellation of Sagittarius, this pulsar and its small companion are kicking up quite a fuss.
Clumps of matter blowing in from the companion star, invade the pulsar’s personal space.
The heavy rotating pulsar reacts with a blast of X-rays, detectable across the universe…
…then recovers its composure, as its magnetic field again asserts protection from the companion star’s less vigorous insults…
…until the next cosmic sibling squabble erupts.
The whole cycle can take just a few weeks… and then repeat.
Scientists call the pair a low-mass X-ray binary.
And over perhaps a billion year’s time, the companion’s contributions will spin the pulsar up..
… until it’s whizzing ‘round hundreds of time each second.
That state is a classic “millisecond pulsar” of the sort astronomers have been listening to for decades.
Now they’re watching one form.
And with music by Atom Strange,
I’m Dave Brody
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It’s like watching siblings tussle: Astronomers have finally witnessed a long-sought example of pulsar evolution. Designated PSR J1824-2452I, this X-ray Binary is being spun up to millisecond speeds by a tiny companion, 1/5th the Sun’s mass.
Credit: SPACE.com / CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science / Music: Atom Strange