Scientists using the Chandra X-ray Observatory obtained a video of the Vela pulsar, a neutron star 12 miles in diameter that formed when a massive star collapsed. The pulsar is rapidly spinning, making more than 11 complete rotations every second, which is faster than a helicopter rotor.An X-ray image of the Vela pulsar, which is about 1,000 light-years from Earth, will help scientists understand the structure and evolution of some of the densest matter in the universe.
As the pulsar whips around, it spews out a jet of charged particles that race along the pulsar’s rotation axis at about 70 per cent of the speed of light. The new Chandra data, which were obtained from June to September 2010, suggest the pulsar may be slowly wobbling, or precessing, as it spins. The period of the precession, which is analogous to the slow wobble of a spinning top, is estimated to be about 120 days.
One reason the pulsar may be slowing down is because it is no longer a perfect sphere, or the magnetic field around the pulsar is influencing the shape of the jet.
“The deviation from a perfect sphere may only be equivalent to about one part in 100 million,” said co-author Oleg Kargaltsev, in a NASA release, who presented these results Monday at the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, Calif. “Neutron stars are so dense that even a tiny distortion like this would have a big effect.”
The original video was released in 2003, but it was so short and uneven researchers could not determine if the pulsar was changing.
This new video can determine is the pulsar really is distorted. If it is, it should be a continuous source of gravitational waves that can be used to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The paper will be published in The Astrophysical Journal on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.
Watch the video here.
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