Mystery Pulsar Baffles Astronomers
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January 25, 2013

Mystery Pulsar Baffles Astronomers

 

 

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A pulsar that is able, without warning, to dramatically change the way in which it shines has been identified by an international team of astronomers. Using a satellite X-ray telescope combined with terrestrial radio telescopes the pulsar was found to flip on a roughly half-hour timescale between two extreme states; one dominated by X-ray pulses, the other by a highly-organised pattern of radio pulses.The emission of X-rays and radio waves by these pulsating neutron stars is able to change dramatically in seconds, simultaneously, in a way that cannot be explained with current theory. It suggests a quick change of the entire magnetosphere. In their research the team combined observations from the X-ray space telescope XMM-Newton and the radio telescope LOFAR.

The research was led by Professor Wim Hermsen from The Netherlands Institute for Space Research and the University of Amsterdam. * Researchers from Jodrell Bank Observatory, as well as institutions around the world, used simultaneous observations with the X-ray satellite XMM-Newton and two radio telescopes; the LOw Frequency Array (LOFAR) in the Netherlands and the Giant Meter Wave Telescope (GMRT) in India to reveal this so far unique behavior.* Pulsars are small spinning stars that are about the size of a city, around 20 km in diameter. They emit oppositely directed beams of radiation from their magnetic poles. Just like a lighthouse, as the star spins and the beam sweeps repeatedly past the Earth we see a brief flash. Some pulsars produce radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including at X-ray and radio wavelengths. Despite being discovered more than 45 years ago the exact mechanism by which pulsars shine is still unknown. Enlarge An international team has made a tantalizing discovery about the way pulsars emit radiation.

It has been known for some time that some radio-emitting pulsars flip their behaviour between two (or even more) states, changing the pattern and intensity of their radio pulses. The moment of flip is both unpredictable and sudden. It is also known from satellite-borne telescopes that a handful of radio pulsars can also be detected at X-ray frequencies. However, the X-ray signal is so weak that nothing is known of its variability.

To find out if the X-rays could also flip the scientists studied a particular pulsar called PSR B0943+10, one of the first to be discovered. It has radio pulses which change in form and brightness every few hours with some of the changes happening within about a second.

"The behaviour of this pulsar is quite startling, it's as if it has two distinct personalities," said Dr Ben Stappers from The University of Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy. "As PSR B0943+10 is one of the few pulsars also known to emit X-rays, finding out how this higher energy radiation behaves as the radio changes could provide new insight into the nature of the emission process."

Since the source is a weak X-ray emitter, the team used the most sensitive X-ray telescope in existence, the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton on board a spacecraft orbiting the Earth. The observations took place over six separate sessions of about six hours in duration.

To identify the exact moment of flip in the pulsar's radio behaviour the X-ray observations were tracked simultaneously with two of the largest radio telescopes in the world, LOFAR and the GMRT. What the scientists found was that whilst the X-rays did indeed change their behavior at the same time as the radio emission, as might have been expected, in the state where the radio signal is strong and organized the X-rays were weak, and when the radio emission switched to weak the X-rays got brighter. 

 "To our surprise we found that when the brightness of the radio emission halved, the X-ray emission brightened by a factor of two!," said project leader Wim Hermsen. "Furthermore the intense X-rays have a very different character from those in the radio-bright state, since they seem to be thermal in origin and to pulse with the neutron star's rotation period." Dr Stappers says this is an exciting discovery: "As well as brightening in the X-rays we discovered that the X-ray emission also shows pulses, something not seen when the radio emission is bright. This was the opposite of what we had expected. I've likened the changes in the pulsar to a chameleon. Like the animal the star changes in reaction to its environment, such as a change in temperature."

"Our observations strongly suggest that a temporary "hotspot" appears close to the pulsar's magnetic pole which switches on and off with the change of state," observed Geoff Wright from the University of Sussex. "But why a pulsar should undergo such dramatic and unpredictable changes is completely unknown."

The next step for the researchers is to look at other objects which have similar behavior to investigate what happens to the X-ray emission. Later this year there will be another round of simultaneous X-ray and radio observations of a second pulsar. These observations will include the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

For more information: Synchronous X-ray and Radio Mode Switches: a Rapid Transformation of the Pulsar Magnetosphere will be published in Science on Thursday 24 January. Journal reference: Science .

The Daily Gal;axy via University of Manchester

Comments

Today I was reading about the quantum theory. Even though I know that quantum and relativity are two separated theories that do not work together, it came to my mind that maybe our measurement of the pulsar`s radiation emissions may be influenced by the act of observation. Like if the pulsar actually emitted the two(or more) kinds of radiation at the same time but when we looked at it we only observed part of reality, like in the quantum theory.

Is it possible it's being manipulated by an advanced civilization for use as a power source or even a means of communication? Does say the pattern is highly organized.

At 3,000 light years away, I guess we can rule out a very tight binary system with two pulsars appearing to be one? Pulsar in tight orbit with a black hole is possible but a chaotic relationship like that might give us occasional transit views where the pulsar is 'turned off' by the transiting black hole. Could the collision or interaction of magnetospheres from the pulsar and black hole create the this puzzle?

How difficult can it be?
Quote: "They emit oppositely directed beams of radiation from their magnetic poles", which really should say it all.

It is only electric charges that creates magnetic fields and rays.

"Pulsars" are, as everything else in the cosmos, electrically connected to their surroundings in electric circuits and it is not the pulsar itself that rotates that fast, but a changing electric charge from the large surrounding field that create the magnetic pulse.

Get Real - Forget Gravity - Get Electric

I suspect that what we are "seeing" are two or more different "objects" existing where our "laws" of physics break down (as in black-hole or near-black-hole situations), and each "object" exists in our universe at synchronised phases when our path thru' quantum time coincides with the paths of the "objects", their paths being chosen by slightly different "laws" of physics. See "The Situation of Gravity".

@Reg Mundy,
If it is necessary to admit that "our laws of physics" brakes down under ANY circumstances, then something serious must be wrong with those “laws”, which then must have be founded on pure and wrong assumptions.

Just take “the galactic rotation anomaly” that seriously questions even the “gravity laws” and all the “dark magic” that modern cosmologists have added to the clearly contradicted gravity idea.

The galactic formation clearly goes in a large 3 D spherical and cell-like circuit of infolding and outfolding movements.

And the motor of this motion is clearly electromagnetic and it has nothing to do with the ancient idea of gravity at all. In this cosmological description NOTHING brakes down but everything goes in circuits.

Again and again: Get Real - Forget Gravity - Get Electric

Is Oklo here on Earth understandable?
On a time frame separate from any imposed by humans Oklo cycled on and off.
Even our sun cycles on and off; the reversal of the magnetic poles.
If this was seen from perhaps the LMC would it be identified as a neutron flashing on and off?
Perhaps a theory as to why the sun's polarity reverses is applicable here?
Perhaps our Sol is a tightly wound magnetar with a gas outer layer and the periodic reversals are a way to wind down with blowing up.

@katesisco - well spotted indeed!

Pulsars are artificially produced beacons in space, located there by civilizations that travel through the galaxy at the speed of light. There is no reasonable explanation for pulsars forming ´by themselves´. Paul La Violette elaborates on this topic in ´Decoding the message of the Pulsars´.

I'm with Rob. Pulsars are communication devices for the Aliens. What we need to do is decipher the signals. Did you notice that pulsars don't emit gamma rays? Why? Lowie Apitz is on the right track.

@ Ivar Neilson
It ain't gravity. But it ain't electric either.....

Oh Lord God, help us all.

I guess these types of responses are to be expected on a site located at a url like "dailygalaxy.com".

The sad thing is that this is why the world is destined to be lost - because it's the very people who have made it their life's mission to help save this world who are themselves so completely and utterly lost. Oh well...

Science fiction concepts are the tentacles of science.


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