A group of scientists announced that they now have a method of measuring young pulsars’ mass. Pulsars are rotating neutron stars emerged in the wake of the explosion of a massive star, a phenomenon known as a supernova.
Until now, astronomers had a method for calculating the mass of planets, stars, and moons by looking at their interaction with nearby space objects. The gravitational pull between these objects was the basis for their measurements. But pulsars are often solitary space bodies, so scientists had to come up with a new method.
Dr Wynn Ho at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study explained that his team failed to use gravitational pull in measuring solitary pulsars’ mass, but they were successful when they used nuclear physics principles instead.
Dr. Ho deemed the finding an‘exciting breakthrough’ that may change forever the methods scientists use to estimate the mass of stars.
Dr Cristobal Espinoza of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile who was also involved in the study said that previous methods of measuring pulsars had their limitations. Those methods needed a neighboring star or planet to measure the pulsars’ masses. But the new technique allows scientists to weigh pulsars even though they may be completely isolated.
Pulsars constantly release an electromagnetic beam that can only be visible from Earth when the beam is oriented towards our planet just like we see a lighthouse beam in the night. Pulsars often display a stable rate of rotation, but young pulsars sometimes accelerate for short periods of time. Scientists dubbed these episodes ‘glitches.’
Researchers believe that the glitches are caused by a fast spinning superfluid inside the star that spins faster than its crust and transfers some rotational energy to the crust boosting its speed for a short time.
One of the researchers likened the process with a spinning bowl of soup in which the soup spins faster than the bowl. The resulting friction within the bowl will accelerate the rotation rate of the bowl to match that of the soup.
“The more soup there is, the faster the bowl will be made to rotate,”
the researcher added.
Researchers used recent X-ray and radio data on isolated pulsars to create a new mathematical method that allows them to calculate mass of young pulsars that tend to ‘glitch.’
The new method is based on the concept of ‘superfluidity.’ Scientists explained that the amplitude of glitches depends on the amount of superfluid in the fast spinning neutron star. By combining observational data with nuclear physics principles the team was able to calculate those pulsars’ mass.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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