Scientists Just Discovered a Neutron Star That Breaks All the Rules

Friday, 28 September 2018 - 12:39PM
Astronomy
Space
Friday, 28 September 2018 - 12:39PM
Scientists Just Discovered a Neutron Star That Breaks All the Rules
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YouTube: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research/ConversationEDU
Between the TESS spacecraft's newly discovered pair of exoplanets and Gaia's ability to chart the position and movement of literally billions of stars, astronomers are pulling in more data about our galaxy (and beyond) than ever before... And sometimes that means discovering things that throw wrenches into our current theories about the universe – like how neutron stars are supposed to behave.

A recent study published in Nature describes a binary pulsar dubbed Swift J0243.6+6124, which contains a neutron star that's spewing out high-energy jets of matter despite having a strong magnetic field. According to scientists' current models of how neutron stars are supposed to work, that's (supposedly) impossible.

But let's back up a second and explore a little more about neutron stars.

According to Professor James Miller-Jones, the study's co-author, "Neutron stars are formed when a massive star runs out of fuel and undergoes a supernova, with the central parts of the star collapsing under their own gravity. This collapse causes the star's magnetic field to increase in strength to several trillion times that of our own sun, which then gradually weakens again over hundreds of thousands of years."



Some neutron stars have the ability to shoot out jets of matter at speeds approaching the speed of light, which are called pulsars. Many of these types of neutron stars hang around a companion star, which they siphon gas from and use as a fuel source for their jets. That's the situation with Swift J0243.6+6124, but the rub is that the neutron star involved has a very, very strong magnetic field, which should prevent it from collecting matter from its star. And yet, it's apparently doing so anyway.

According to lead researcher Jakob van den Eijnden: "The magnetic field of the neutron star we studied is about 10 trillion times stronger than that of our own Sun, so for the first time ever, we have observed a jet coming from a neutron star with a very strong magnetic field. The discovery reveals a whole new class of jet-producing sources for us to study."
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