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Astronomers crack mystery of 'transformer' star

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
7/25/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

Star observed switching between high-energy states.

Astronomers have discovered a star that seems to vary and vanish in a surprising fashion. They mystery may now have been solved.

The mysterious star switches between two states of energy output, baffling scientists -- until now.

The mysterious star switches between two states of energy output, baffling scientists -- until now.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
7/25/2014 (3 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: pulsar, astrony, transformer


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientists observing a pulsar have been surprised to notice the star disappear and reappear in their observations. Stars do not appear or disappear suddenly, so they were intrigued by the discovery and examined the pulsar more closely.

A pulsar is actually the core of a dead star, called a neutron star, which spins very rapidly, emitting radio waves in beams as it spins. This particular pulsar spins about 43,000 times per minute. It also has a small companion star that is about 20 percent the size of the Sun.

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The pulsar and small star orbit one another and this is key to understanding why the pulsar appears and disappears.

Scientists now think the pulsar is drawing gas from its companion which builds up and heats up, then essentially explodes in a burst of energy. This causes the waves emitted by the star to change from radio waves to X-rays. Since the star is studied in radio waves, every time it bursts, it disappears from the radio-sensitive instrument used to observe it. This creates the illusion, on paper, that the star is disappearing. Meanwhile, while it is invisible to radio waves, it lights up in X-rays.

This periodic transformation between these two states of energy output have not been studied before so that makes this binary system both new and rare. Scientists don't know when the next switch will occur, so they will continue watching it in the hopes they can observe it switching back and forth again.

Astronomers hope to learn more about how pulsars form and how they interact when they orbit larger companion stars.

The study announcing the discovery was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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