It looks like the pulsar is eating its companion

The newly discovered double star has the shortest orbit of any known black widow. And every 10,000 years, a third, distant star intervenes in this pair.

We know that the most barbaric and strange things happen in the universe. A new discovery proves it once again. Astronomers have come across a very strange and rare “black widow”. This “killer” binary star consists of a rapidly rotating neutron star – a pulsar – orbiting a smaller companion. Like the spider of the same name, the pulsar appears to be slowly devouring its companion.

More about black widows in space
Black widows are binary stars that, as mentioned, are powered by pulsars. Fast spinning neutron stars. Pulsars have an amazing rotation period, emitting flashes of high-energy gamma rays and X-rays. Usually, pulsars “die” very quickly, because they burn a huge amount of energy. But every now and then, a transiting star can breathe new life into a pulsar. As the star approaches, the pulsar can steal material from its companion due to its gravitational force. This causes the pulsar to release new energy, further stripping and eventually destroying its companion. Due to the striking resemblance to the fearsome black widow spiders that eat their mates, the double stars of the same name go through life.

Black widows in space are very rare. For example, researchers know about two dozen binary stars. However, the newest filter, called ZTF J1406 + 1222, is a special filter. The binary star, located 3,000 light-years from Earth, turned out to have a record-breaking short orbit of only 62 minutes! This means that the pulsar and its prey complete one orbit around each other every 62 minutes.

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The third star
While this is intriguing, the story gets even weirder. The system appears to be home to a third, farthest star that completes one orbit around the two innermost stars every 10,000 years.

The discovery of this potential black widow trio in space raises questions about how such systems might have emerged. However, researchers have a theory. For example, they suspect that this triple system—perhaps in the same way as most black widow binary stars—formed from a dense constellation of older stars known as a globular cluster. Then the block in question was pushed closer to the center of the Milky Way. Then the black hole’s gravity pulled the mass apart, leaving the triple strike system intact. “It’s a complex birth scenario,” said study researcher Kevin Bridge. “This system may have been orbiting the Milky Way longer than our Sun.”

new approach
The research team discovered the remarkable ternary system thanks to a new method. Although gamma rays and X-rays emitted by a pulsar usually reveal the presence of a black widow, researchers have come up with The current study Use visible light. In fact, they were studying the “prey” of the pulsar, not the pulsar itself. It turns out that the companion’s day side – the side constantly facing the pulsar – can be many times hotter than its night side, due to the continuous high-energy radiation it receives from the pulsar. “Instead of looking directly for the pulsar, we can also try to find the star that’s cooking it,” Burgee explains. When you see the brightness of a star periodically changing, according to Bridge, you may have found a black widow.

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Although the researchers hypothesized that ZTF J1406 + 1222 is a black widow, the team oddly enough didn’t detect any gamma rays or X-rays from the pulsar directly. ZTF J1406 + 1222 is therefore considered a “candidate” for now, although astronomers hope to confirm their suspicions with the help of future observations. “The only thing we know for sure is that we see a day-side star that’s much hotter than the night-side, orbiting something every 62 minutes,” Bridge sums up. “However, everything seems to indicate that she is a bi-black widow. But there are some strange things going on, so it’s probably something completely new as well.”

The team plans to continue monitoring the alien system. In addition, they hope to use their new method to detect more neutron stars and black widows.

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