Break out the nice Chianti, the Hannibal Lecter of pulsars has been observed, gobbling his neighbor of course.
A dying star has been caught in the act of resurrecting itself by eating its neighbor.
Together, the stars represent a previously unseen stage in the lifecycle of millisecond pulsars, the fastest-spinning objects in the universe.
“It’s really a missing link in the chain from young pulsar to old pulsar,” said Anne Archibald, a McGill University graduate student and lead author of the study published in Science Thursday.
Pulsars are a special class of neutron stars, the corpses of massive stars that exploded as supernovae. They’re born spinning quickly, up to tens of times per second, and sweep the sky with a beam of radio energy as they rotate. Eventually, they slow down to the point where they can no longer emit radio waves and die a second death.
But until now, scientists couldn’t explain how some old, dead pulsars become millisecond pulsars, which rotate hundreds of times a second. The new discovery of an intermediate step between the two appears to be the missing link.
Astronomers have long theorized that these superfast stars share their orbit with a companion star from which they leech extra material. The material settles around the pulsar’s middle in a so-called accretion disk. As material from the disk falls onto the surface of the pulsar, it imparts enough angular momentum to spin back up into what scientists call a ”recycled pulsar.”
“This is a completely new thing, seeing it go from one state to another,” said co-author Maura McLaughlin of West Virginia University. “We’ve never seen that before, ever.”
Read entire article at Wired.