Cosmic glitch: Super-dense star is first ever found suddenly slowing its spin

May 29, 2013
The magnetar 1E 2259+586 shines a brilliant blue-white in this false-color X-ray image of the CTB 109 supernova remnant, which lies about 10,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cassiopeia. CTB 109 is only one of three supernova remnants in our galaxy known to harbor a magnetar. X-rays at low, medium and high energies are respectively shown in red, green, and blue in this image created from observations acquired by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite in 2002. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/M. Sasaki et al.

One of the densest objects in the universe, a neutron star about 10,000 light years from Earth, has been discovered suddenly putting the brakes on its spinning speed. The event is a mystery that holds important clues for understanding how matter reacts when it is squeezed more tightly than the density of an atomic nucleus—a state that no laboratory on Earth has achieved. The discovery by an international team of scientists will be published in the journal Nature on May 30, 2013.

The scientists detected the neutron star's abrupt slow-down with NASA's Swift observatory, a satellite with three telescopes whose science and are controlled by Penn State from the on the University Park campus. "Because Swift has the ability to regularly measure the spin of this unusual star, we have been able to observe its surprising evolution," said Penn State Jamie Kennea, a coauthor of the Nature paper. "This neutron star is doing something completely unexpected. Its speed of rotation has been dropping at an increasingly rapid rate ever since the initial sudden decrease in its spin."

Although astronomers have observed suddenly speeding up their spins—an event called a "glitch"—they never before had observed a neutron star suddenly slowing down. "We've dubbed this event an 'anti-glitch' because it affected this star in exactly the opposite manner of every other clearly identified glitch seen in neutron stars," said co-author Neil Gehrels, the lead researcher on the Swift mission, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The star is in the Northern Hemisphere sky in the .

A neutron star is the closest thing to a black hole that astronomers can observe directly. It is the crushed core of a massive star that ran out of fuel, collapsed under its own weight, and then exploded as a supernova. The matter left behind after the explosion is compressed into a ball only about 12 miles across but with a mass roughly half a million times more than the mass of the Earth. One teaspoon of a neutron star weighs 1 billion tons, roughly twice the combined weight of all the cars in the United States.

Neutron stars can reach speeds of rotation as fast as the blades of a kitchen blender—up to 43,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), and can have magnetic fields a trillion times stronger than the Earth's. But this abruptly slowing neutron star, named 1E2259+586, is an even more bizarre and rare kind of neutron star. It is one of fewer than two dozen neutron stars called "magnetars" because they have such ultra-strong magnetic fields—up to approximately 5,000 trillion times that of the Earth. Magnetars also can have dramatic outbursts of X-rays so strong that they can affect Earth's atmosphere, even if the magnetar is sending its blasts from the opposite side of our Milky Way galaxy. "Magnetars are the universe's strongest magnets and are some of the best laboratories we have for understanding pure physics," Kennea said. "The extreme conditions on these stars could never be replicated in any laboratory here on Earth."

This is an artist's rendering of an outburst on an ultra-magnetic neutron star, also called a magnetar. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Using the Swift observatory's X-ray Telescope, the scientists observed regular X-ray pulses from magnetar 1E 2259+586 from July 2011 to mid-April 2012. During this time, the magnetar was spinning once every 7 seconds, or about 8 rpm, and it appeared to be slowing down at a gradual and stable rate. But at the next scheduled observation on 28 April 2012, the data captured by Swift showed the star's spin had abruptly slowed by 2.2 millionths of a second—the surprisingly sudden change that now is called an anti-glitch.

On 21 April, just a week before the Swift observation that discovered this anti-glitch, the magnetar produced a brief but intense X-ray burst detected by the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor aboard NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The scientists now think this 36-millisecond eruption of high-energy light likely marked the changes that drove the magnetar into the abrupt "anti-glitch" slowdown mode. In addition, continuing observations have revealed that the magnetar's spin is continuing to slow down at a much faster rate.

A neutron star is the densest object astronomers can observe directly, crushing half a million times Earth's mass into a sphere about 12 miles across, or similar in size to Manhattan Island, as shown in this illustration. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

These discoveries confront astronomers with a new theoretical challenge. What exactly could cause the magnetar's X-ray outburst, then the abrupt slowdown of its rotation, and now the even faster deceleration of the star's rotation that the Swift observatory is continuing to detect?

Theories of the internal structure of a neutron star, which were current before the anti-glitch discovery, envision a crust of electrons and charged particles above an interior containing, among other oddities, a bizarre, friction-free state of matter called a neutron superfluid. According to these theories, because the surface of a neutron star accelerates streams of high-energy particles through its intense magnetic field, the star's crust should always be losing energy and slowing down—but the fluid in the interior of the neutron star should resist being slowed. The crust could fracture under this strain, producing an X-ray outburst while also receiving a kick from the faster-spinning interior that would speed the star's rotation. So now, after the discovery of the anti-glitch, scientists need improved theories to explain the unexpected and continuing slowing-down of the rotation of 1E 2259+586.

In addition to the new anti-glitch mystery, this discovery is expected to catalyze renewed efforts to solve long-standing mysteries about the puzzling physics that rules super-dense states of matter in neutron stars and black holes—the most mysterious objects in the universe.

In addition to Kennea at Penn State and Gehrels at Goddard, other coauthors of the Nature paper include astronomers at McGill University in Montreal in Canada, the University of Hong Kong, and the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. The Swift observatory, launched into Earth orbit in November 2004, is managed by Goddard Space Flight Center and operated in collaboration with Penn State University, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Orbital Sciences Corporation, with international collaborators in the United Kingdom and Italy and including contributions from Germany and Japan.

Explore further: Astronomers find 'cousin' planets around twin stars

More information: Nature, 2013. dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12159

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cantdrive85
1.2 / 5 (24) May 29, 2013
These discoveries confront astronomers with a new theoretical challenge. What exactly could cause the magnetar's X-ray outburst, then the abrupt slowdown of its rotation, and now the even faster deceleration of the star's rotation that the Swift observatory is continuing to detect?


No need to get into the complete nonsense in regards to theories surrounding "magnetars" and neutron stars, there is however a simple explanation of this 'anti-glitch'. No magical properties nor mythic beasts need to be conjured up to explain this anomaly, just simple electrical effects of the matter involved.

http://www.thunde...onsters/
barakn
2.6 / 5 (10) May 29, 2013
Soylent_Grin
2.2 / 5 (6) May 29, 2013
What if it's not suddenly slowing down, but suddenly speeding up to relativistic speeds, which would look like slowing down to an outside observer?
LarryD
2.3 / 5 (3) May 29, 2013
Would it be possible that other types of neutron stars also exhibit this but perhaps after a long of time and this 'anti-glitch' is the first to be observed because we weren't around yet to observe others.
"...since the initial sudden decrease in its spin." Just a thought, did we actually witness the 'initial spin'? If not how do we know it was in a 'initial spin' phase?
Silverhill
not rated yet May 30, 2013
What if it's not suddenly slowing down, but suddenly speeding up to relativistic speeds, which would look like slowing down to an outside observer?
The energies necessary would rule this out. To increase the rotation of a stellar mass to relativistic levels would require godawful amounts of energy---far more than the star could supply. (And if such acceleration could happen, it could not happen quickly.)
Fleetfoot
3 / 5 (4) May 30, 2013
What if it's not suddenly slowing down, but suddenly speeding up to relativistic speeds, which would look like slowing down to an outside observer?


It would still look as though it speeded up. If you are thinking of time dilation, that would only produce an additional small redshift of surface emissions
Jitterbewegung
1.4 / 5 (9) May 30, 2013
Maybe a black hole is forming in the middle and as matter sinks into it the neutron shell slows down;-)
HeloMenelo
1.4 / 5 (11) May 30, 2013
Can anyone explain to me , what it would be like if it was possible to get close to these neutron stars/magnetars, would you implode in just getting near it, at what distance, if you could have touched the surface, would it be like a black hole experience ? ie you'd be converted into super hot gasses or energy instantly ?

wow Jitter that would be interesting, actually witnessing a BH birth !

I wish we had one of these in our solar system :-(
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (6) May 30, 2013
What if it's not suddenly slowing down, but suddenly speeding up to relativistic speeds, which would look like slowing down to an outside observer?

This would not look like a slowing down to the observer but simply to a slowing down ofthe increase of the speed (incresaing the rotation speed will ALWAYS look like an increase in rotation speed to the observer - just not necessarily linearly so).

what it would be like if it was possible to get close to these neutron stars/magnetars

your view around the rim of the neutron star would look severely distorted. Unless you get very close nothing bad would happen due to gravity (noo spaghettification or any of that sort of thing.
(You's have the usual problems of being near a star that still fuses gas that falls into it and emits a shitload of gammas, though)

I wish we had one of these in our solar system

They tend to have high energy x-ray jets out the poles. Good thing we haven't got one.
HeloMenelo
1.4 / 5 (11) May 30, 2013
Thanks that's really interesting :-)

I even read up some more on this and found the following, wow and to think it's only 20km's across, i'm absolutely beyond words. If i could've been close to one, i would probably spend all my time just looking at it instead of doing our daily thing here on the blue marble... :-)

The magnetic field of a magnetar would be lethal even at a distance of 1000 km due to the strong magnetic field distorting the electron clouds of the subject's constituent atoms, rendering the chemistry of life impossible.

Purely mindblowing these objects....
Fleetfoot
1 / 5 (2) May 30, 2013
Maybe a black hole is forming in the middle and as matter sinks into it the neutron shell slows down;-)


There was an article on that sort of event here last month:

http://phys.org/n...ong.html

Skim down to the image of the vlue star showing its size compared to the Solar System. Now imagine it runs out of fuel and the core collapses to a black hole. As usual, relativistic jets form from the poles of the BH but it is still embedded in the centre of the star. Those jets punch through creating the intense GRB we detect. However, that phase ended in just a few hours, in that time most of the star would have collapsed into the BH with some material being blown off by the accretion disc luminosity.

This neutron star still exists, there isn't a black hole involved.
jsa09
not rated yet May 30, 2013
Speeding up the rotation may make it look like if is slowing down - it depends on what is being measured in order to determine how fast it is spinning. If it is some form of periodic emission then you only have to change the period of emission to make the star appear to speed up or slow down for that matter. It brings to mind the image of cars passing on the road, sometimes it looks like the wheels are spinning backwards to the direction of motion. It all has to do with what exactly we are using to judge the apparent motion.
Shelgeyr
1.6 / 5 (14) May 30, 2013
These discoveries confront astronomers with a new theoretical challenge. What exactly could cause the magnetar's X-ray outburst, then the abrupt slowdown of its rotation, and now the even faster deceleration of the star's rotation that the Swift observatory is continuing to detect?


No need to get into the complete nonsense in regards to theories surrounding "magnetars" and neutron stars, there is however a simple explanation of this 'anti-glitch'. No magical properties nor mythic beasts need to be conjured up to explain this anomaly, just simple electrical effects of the matter involved.

http://www.thunde...onsters/


I completely agree. It is far more likely a resonant circuit in energized plasma (keyword: "likely", not claimed as fact). To simply stipulate that it "is" a neutron star is anti-science.
Fleetfoot
3.4 / 5 (5) May 31, 2013
I completely agree. It is far more likely a resonant circuit in energized plasma ..


Don't be fooled by the cranks, the pulse profiles are not compatible with a resonant source, it would need to be a relaxation oscillator if anything.

Even if the nonsensical suggestion were possible, the fastest pulsar (716Hz) would then have to be no more than ~420km circumference and probably an order of magnitude smaller or we would see no variation, just the average. That's not much bigger than the conventional figure.

To simply stipulate that it "is" a neutron star is anti-science.


The resulting density calculated on the assumption that it was plasma would still make it a neutron star, hence not plasma. Self-contradictory hand-waving is the "anti-science" the EU mob are propounding.
Shelgeyr
2.6 / 5 (15) May 31, 2013
The resulting density calculated on the assumption that it was plasma would still make it a neutron star, hence not plasma. Self-contradictory hand-waving is the "anti-science" the EU mob are propounding.


I disagree with you, but am giving you 5 stars for politeness and for the obvious knowledge you bring to the table. Do you mind if we continue this discussion in PMs? I don't care to clog up this thread with my own EU-oriented pontifications (and I doubt anyone else wants me to either), but would love to continue debating the point if you're open to the idea.
Fleetfoot
3 / 5 (4) May 31, 2013
The resulting density calculated on the assumption that it was plasma would still make it a neutron star, hence not plasma. Self-contradictory hand-waving is the "anti-science" the EU mob are propounding.


I disagree with you, but am giving you 5 stars for politeness and for the obvious knowledge you bring to the table. Do you mind if we continue this discussion in PMs? I don't care to clog up this thread with my own EU-oriented pontifications (and I doubt anyone else wants me to either), but would love to continue debating the point if you're open to the idea.


Your the first person that's offered that, I'd be delighted. Too often this group gets clocked with flame wars and any content gets lost in the noise.
Q-Star
1.3 / 5 (12) May 31, 2013
The resulting density calculated on the assumption that it was plasma would still make it a neutron star, hence not plasma. Self-contradictory hand-waving is the "anti-science" the EU mob are propounding.


I disagree with you, but am giving you 5 stars for politeness and for the obvious knowledge you bring to the table. Do you mind if we continue this discussion in PMs? I don't care to clog up this thread with my own EU-oriented pontifications (and I doubt anyone else wants me to either), but would love to continue debating the point if you're open to the idea.


Ya are a gentleman Sir.
andy26
1 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2013
I've been following this site for more than a year now and have never commented before. I just want to say that this is the first time I've witnessed a civil exchange between an EU proponent and the people who typically fleece such "cranks", and I hope this sort of civil behavior becomes the norm from now on.

I personally tend to think the EU theory has some valid points which make much more sense than the standard ones, but I'm obviously not 100% sure, and I don't understand why people need to be so aggressive with anyone who proposes an alternative explanation.

What I would love to see is exactly the kind of civil debate Shelgeyr proposes to carry on with fleetfoot, where I can listen to both sides and make up my mind based on the evidence, not "I'm right and you're an idiot" kind of talk.

In fact, if you want to CC me in your PMs, I would love to silently follow your debate and I promise I won't disturb either of you :-)
Fleetfoot
not rated yet Jun 03, 2013
I just want to say that this is the first time I've witnessed a civil exchange between an EU proponent and the people who typically fleece such "cranks", and I hope this sort of civil behavior becomes the norm from now on.


Thanks. I always believe that any valid science should be able to withstand scrutiny.

I personally tend to think the EU theory has some valid points which make much more sense than the standard ones,


Plasma effects are valid in some cases but there's a core of people who try to take that into areas of complete fantasy.

What I would love to see is exactly the kind of civil debate Shelgeyr proposes to carry on with fleetfoot, where I can listen to both sides and make up my mind based on the evidence, not "I'm right and you're an idiot" kind of talk.

In fact, if you want to CC me in your PMs, I would love to silently follow your debate and I promise I won't disturb either of you :-)


I have received nothing so far.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (14) Jun 03, 2013
Plasma effects are valid in some cases but there's a core of people who try to take that into areas of complete fantasy.

Plasma effects are valid where there is plasma, which is 99.99% of the Universe (according to NASA). One charged particle among 10,000 neutral particles is enough to cause the neutral particles to behave as plasma. That being said, you'd have a much harder time locating where plasma effects DO NOT dominate.
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (4) Jun 03, 2013
Plasma effects are valid in some cases but there's a core of people who try to take that into areas of complete fantasy.

Plasma effects are valid where there is plasma, which is 99.99% of the Universe (according to NASA). One charged particle among 10,000 neutral particles is enough to cause the neutral particles to behave as plasma. That being said, you'd have a much harder time locating where plasma effects DO NOT dominate.


On the other hand, one neutral atom in 1000 ionised atoms is enough to cause the mix to behave optically as opaque gas, that's the level that causes the Lyman Alpha forest and the Gunn-Peterson Trough.

You illustrate very well the blinkered thinking that leads to the fantasy of EU as opposed to the accurate inclusion of plasma effects in complex mixtures.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (14) Jun 03, 2013
Lot's of theories, assumptions, and circular reasoning illustrates the blinkered thinking of the mathematical theoreticians. Those items ignore the effects of that light traveling through the electric fields within plasma and how that affects the light, but such a consideration is far too complex for the metaphysicists.
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2013
.. such a consideration is far too complex for the metaphysicists.


Then stop bleating on about it and learn some real science instead.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (15) Jun 03, 2013
relativist=metaphysicist

Non astrophysical plasma physicist=real scienctist

Learn the difference!
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2013
relativist=metaphysicist

Non astrophysical plasma physicist=real scienctist

Learn the difference!


The difference is that real scientists know how to spell "scientist".
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (13) Jun 04, 2013
relativist=metaphysicist

Non astrophysical plasma physicist=real scienctist

Learn the difference!


The difference is that real scientists know how to spell "scientist".

Zing! Got me. Instead of the "science guy" we'll call you "dictionary guru".
GSwift7
1 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2013
I'm not going to attempt any kind of theory about the cause of either the glitch or the anti-glitch.

I just wanted to metion that if you google this magnetar, it is sort of a celebrity. There's a paper about the detection of a possible companion detected in IR, and there's a paper that infers the presence of a gas/dust cloud around it as well.

I'm not going to single anyone out, but most of the idea proposed above can be ruled out fairly easily. I think if there were an easy explanation, it would have been metioned in the original story, and it wouldn't be a big deal.

As for relativistic effects, such as it slowing down due to gravity, we should be able to see that, if that were the case (if it was orbiting a black hole, then we would see it wobble, and there would be a red shift to accompany the slowing of rotation, and they would match).

That's a LOT of mass to slow down, so any exernal force would need to be immense. I'm thinking an internal process is more likely.
Shelgeyr
1 / 5 (9) Jun 04, 2013
Didn't mean to vanish without warning on Fleetfoot - am back now and have PMed him. Andy26 I'm fine if you join in but will leave that call up to Fleetfoot. Thank you both for your patience!
yyz
5 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2013
Of interest, the theoretical community has stepped up to the plate with a couple of recent papers on arXiv:

"Anti-glitch of magnetar 1E 2259+586 in the wind braking scenario": http://arxiv.org/abs/1306.2445

"Magnetospheric "anti-glitches" in magnetars": http://arxiv.org/abs/1306.2264