Strange are the ways of the universe and fascinating are the displays it gives us. Just recently, a pulsar punched a hole in a solar disk belonging to its companion star. This is a very rare occurrence, and the astronomers working with the Chandra observatory are very excited to have it.
The most famous X-ray observatory of NASA has picked up a cosmic clump of gas moving away from the star at mind-boggling speeds of 4 million miles per hour. And it’s accelerating.
This phenomenon has been observed in a double star system located at approximately 7,500 light years from our own planet. The system has one of those names made up of endless numbers (PSR B1259-63/LS 2883), but you and other friends can call it simply B1259. The main star of the system has about 30 times the mass of our little sun. The pulsar used to be a star even bigger than its sister, yet in time it went supernova, and remained only a neutron star.
The pulsar is extremely luminous, emitting pulsations of light and spinning around its own orbit at a staggering twenty times a second. It also rotates around its sister star in a strange, elliptical orbit. This means that there are two extremes in one rotation around the orbit of the star. The first is when the star is farthest away, and the second when it is closest.
When the pulsar goes from closest to farthest positions, it slows down, but gathers momentum, which it unleashes when it goes back around. When it closes in it can reach incredible speeds, and as it passes through the disk-shaped cloud of gas surrounding the main star, it shoots out particles at speeds close to the speed of light.
Still, what is the cloud of gas doing there in the first place? Our own star does not have a cloud of gas around it. Well, if you’ve probably noticed, nothing in the known universe is ever the same, and so it is with this. This star is spinning so fast around its own orbit, and is so massive, that it effectively breaks itself apart
The scientists have been observing this marriage of stars since December 2011. At the beginning, the disk of gas, which covers an area a hundred times bigger than our Solar System, was moving away pretty slow. Most recent observations from February 2014 shows that the disk is accelerating with every passing of the neutron star in front of the main star.
Scientists are planning to continue to study the strange case with Chandra, and are scared (or hoping) that the extremely strong wind the orbit of the pulsar produces will eventually eviscerate its sister star. Quite a sight, wouldn’t you agree?
Image source: nasa.gov