Pulsar punches hole in stellar disk

Pulsar Punches Hole In Stellar Disk
X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/G.Pavlov et al; Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

A fast-moving pulsar appears to have punched a hole in a disk of gas around its companion star and launched a fragment of the disk outward at a speed of about 4 million miles per hour. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is tracking this cosmic clump, which appears to be picking up speed as it moves out.

The double star system PSR B1259-63/LS 2883 – or B1259 for short – contains a star about 30 times as massive as the Sun and a pulsar, an ultra-dense neutron star left behind when an even more massive star underwent a supernova explosion.

The pulsar emits regular pulses as it spins 20 times a second, and moves in a highly elliptical orbit around its . The combination of rapid rotation and of the pulsar has generated a strong wind of high-energy particles moving away from the pulsar at near the .

The massive companion star, meanwhile, is rotating close to break-up speed and is spinning off a disk of material. As the pulsar makes its closest approach to the star every 41 months, it passes through this disk

"These two objects are in an unusual cosmic arrangement and have given us a chance to witness something special," said George Pavlov of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, lead author of a paper describing these results. "As the pulsar moved through the disk, it appears that it punched a clump of material out and flung it away into space." 

Even though the clump is rather large, spanning a hundred times the size of our Solar System, it is also quite thin. The material in it has the mass equivalent to all the water in the Earth's oceans.

"After this clump of stellar material was knocked out, the pulsar's wind appears to have accelerated it, almost as if it had a rocket attached," said co-author Oleg Kargaltsev of George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC.

Astronomers observed B1259, which is located about 7,500 light years from Earth, three times with Chandra between December 2011 and February 2014. These observations show the clump moving away from B1259 at an average speed of about 7% of the speed of light. The data also indicate that the clump has been accelerated to 15% of the speed of light between the second and third observations.

"This just shows how powerful the wind blasting off a pulsar can be," said co-author Jeremy Hare, also of GWU. "The pulsar's wind is so strong that it could ultimately eviscerate the entire disk around its companion star over time."

The X-ray emission observed by Chandra is likely produced by a shock wave created as the 's wind rams into the clump of material. The ram pressure generated by this interaction could also accelerate the clump.

Chandra will continue monitoring B1259 and its moving clump with observations scheduled for later this year and in 2016.

These results appeared in the June 20, 2015 issue of The Astrophysical Journal and are available online. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.


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Jul 22, 2015
I don't understand. First impression is the portion of an intact ellipsoid. The motion this powerful should show more distortion. If we are moving away from this source at a speed such that we intercept these wave-forms, optically, the distortion we see could be due to our own galaxy. The motion would be backward in time, the angle of separation from the source would also define the separation of objects. One may conjecture, we may define our velocity relative to this object, given multiple sources. The analysis above, for now, is incomplete and hasty

Jul 22, 2015
Flickering stars can be interpreted in more than one way. There is no sense to rigidly adopting the view that it results from rotation. It can also simply be that astrophysicists have not properly understood the behavior of plasmas, and that the flickers result from a relaxation oscillator type of behavior.

In that other worldview, this could be the birthing of a new planet or star. In fact, the flickering might have simply been the charge-neutralization as the two bodies separated, and the fissioning might have preceded the flickering.

There are many possibilities which this worldview-dependent reporting completely obscures.

Jul 29, 2015
How much matter does the pulsar eat each pass? What is the current mass of the pulsar?

i ask because this could result in a supernova. More interesting, if the more massive star goes supernova, what will happen to the pulsar? Will the result be two black holes rotatiing around each other?

Jul 30, 2015
What is a "cosmic magnet" ren? How did they get there? How were they formed?
To address the religious based response I'm sure you'llpost - why did "the creator" make them? Why did he not include them in the story of creation? I've read the bible and the Genesis creation story more than once and I don't recall any mention of cosmic magnets.

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