Rst Black Widow Superior

Rst Black Widow Superior – A simulation of the binary system formed by the pulsar PSR J2055+3829 (in blue, lower left) and a very low-mass companion star [Michele Diodati / Universe Sandbox²]

A study based on observations made with the French radio telescope in Nançay describes a binary system consisting of a millisecond pulsar, orbited by a companion with a mass less than 0.05 solar masses, cannibalized by the pulsar.

Rst Black Widow Superior

Neutron stars are the most extreme objects in the observable universe. With radii of only 10 to 12 km and masses at least 1.4 times that of the Sun, these incredibly dense and compact stellar remnants are all that remain of stars much more massive than the Sun, after exploding as supernovae.

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Newly formed neutron stars generally rotate at very high speeds because they retain the parent star’s angular momentum, but, because of their small size, they have a much lower moment of inertia. Due to their extraordinarily high mass compressed into such a small volume, they have a very high surface gravity, with an escape velocity of about 1/3 the speed of light (by comparison, the escape velocity from the surface of the Earth). Earth is just over 11 km per second). ). Lastly, they have extremely powerful magnetic fields, which in so-called magnetars can reach up to 10¹⁵ Gs, ie quadrillion gauss.

The high speed of rotation and the intensity of the magnetic field, combined, produce beams of high-energy radiation emitted by the magnetic poles of the star. When the magnetic poles are misaligned with respect to the neutron star’s axis of rotation, the radiation beams appear to an observer on Earth like the flashing light of a lighthouse, flashing on each time one of the beams is directed inward. our planet. It is a pulse that can be detected in radio waves but also in other regions of the spectrum, such as gamma rays, a signal that repeats itself endlessly, as precise as the ticking of an atomic clock. A neutron star that emits this type of intermittent radiation is called a pulsar.

After the first pulsar discovered in 1967 (initially mistaken for a possible intelligent message of extraterrestrial origin), many others were discovered in the following decades. They form a complex “family” of celestial objects, including very fast-spinning neutron stars, so-called millisecond pulsars, and others that rotate at a slower rate. There are solitary pulsars while others belong to binary systems, where the companion can be a main sequence star like the Sun, a red giant, a white dwarf or even another pulsar.

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Given the extreme characteristics of these objects, the binary partner of a pulsar does not usually have an easy life. If it survives the supernova explosion that formed the neutron star (an explosion that can disrupt the binary system with its thrust), the companion may be exposed to the devastating beams of radiation emitted by the pulsar’s magnetic poles. The smaller the radius of the orbit, the more the binary companion suffers from the violent “temper” of the pulsar.

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An impressive testimony of this violence is given by the binary systems that contain black widows. The first black widow was discovered in 1988 by Fruchter, Stinebring, and Taylor. Since then, about forty have been identified, located partly in the galactic disk and partly within globular clusters. A black widow is a pulsar that cannibalizes its binary partner, stripping it of mass until it almost disappears. What is observed in such a system is a millisecond pulsar with a close-orbiting binary companion, with a period of a few hours. Generally, the elements that indicate that the pulsar is a black widow are three: 1) the companion is a very light star, with a mass that is only a small fraction of that of the Sun; 2) the pulsar undergoes periodic eclipses and 3) its period is subject to variation.

All three features are present in the system formed by the pulsar PSR J2055+3829 and its binary companion, described in a study published on September 10, 2019 in

This exotic stellar pair was discovered thanks to a series of observations made since 2013 with the French Nançay radio telescope. It is located in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), at an estimated distance from Earth of about 4.6 kiloparsecs, that is, 15,000 light years. Due to the distance, neither the pulsar nor the faint companion are visible at optical wavelengths. Probably for the same reason, there are no traces of the pulsar even in gamma rays, even though researchers have sifted through more than ten years of archival data from the Fermi Space Telescope. Everything we know about this binary system is derived from numerous radio wave observations made with the Nançay radio telescope at a frequency of 1.4 GHz.

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The Nançay radio telescope, France. Radio waves are reflected by the primary mirror, which is straight in shape, towards the concave secondary mirror. The structure, built in 1965, is equivalent to a 94 meter parabolic mirror

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The pulsar has a period of 2,089 milliseconds. That means it does 478.6 rotations every second! Setting a canonical mass of 1.4 solar masses for PSR J2055+3829 gives values ​​between 0.023 and 0.053 solar masses for its binary partner. It is an interval that is equivalent to 24−55 Jovian masses, more typical of a brown dwarf than of a real star. This superlight companion orbits the pulsar in 3.1 hours, at an average distance of 1.2 solar radii (835,000 km), definitely locked in synchronous rotation.

The data obtained from the radio wave observations indicate that the pulsar period is subject to quite frequent variations and, above all, that the pulse undergoes an eclipse in each orbit of the binary companion, near the superior conjunction, for about 19 minutes. , or 10% of the orbital period.

The cold numbers hide an apocalyptic scenario, which justifies the name “black widow” given to this type of pulsar. (The black widow is one of the most poisonous spiders in nature. Its bite can be lethal.) Imagine a supercompact sphere of degenerate matter, with a radius of only 10-12 km, in which around 1.5 solar masses. This tiny infernal sphere, provided with a magnetic field with a surface intensity of 42,000,000 Gs, turns on itself frantically, almost 500 times per second. With each rotation, it directs its high-energy radiation beam, emitted by one of its magnetic poles, towards the very close binary partner. The beam is like a death ray, gradually tearing apart the unlucky partner. It is a process similar in its effects to laser ablation.

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Matter stripped from the star disperses into circumstellar space, forming a thick but inhomogeneous “cushion” of plasma, which blocks the pulsar’s radiation directed at Earth with each orbit, causing the eclipse seen in radio waves. However, that same matter, in the end, falls back on the pulsar, which has an immensely greater gravity than its companion. Thus, the pulsar “fattens” at the expense of the binary partner, becoming a “recycled” pulsar. Its period of rotation decreases as a consequence of the transfer of angular momentum from the material stripped from the other star.

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In essence, the very small mass of the companion star is testimony to a form of stellar cannibalism that has been going on for who knows how long. We don’t know what the initial mass of the companion pulsar was, but it was certainly much larger than the actual mass. We don’t even know if the planets orbit around this exotic binary system. If there are, and if they survived the supernova explosion that created the pulsar, they are certainly not in a favorable environment, exposed as they are to deadly radiation from the neutron star.

A simulation of the binary system described in the article. The black widow is in the center of the image, invisible. In blue, the radiation beams emanating from the magnetic poles of the pulsar. The binary companion, on the left, is continually losing matter, which flows into a disk of plasma orbiting the pulsar [Michele Diodati/Universe Sandbox²]

Another simulation of the system formed by the pulsar PSR J2055+3829 and its binary companion [Michele Diodati / Universe Sandbox²]

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