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Home / Science / Astronomers discover a massive neutron star that almost should not exist

Astronomers discover a massive neutron star that almost should not exist



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An illustration of the pulsar and a nearby white star, which scientists used to help measure the pulsar's mass.


NRAO / AUI / NSF
                                                

Scientists say they've found a spinning neutron star, or pulsar that is so densely compacted, it might be right on the limit of what's possible. It could exist precariously at the tipping point where any more pressure would cause it to collapse completely and form a new black hole.

A team of astronomers using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia found that the fast rotating pulsar, called J0740 + 6620, is the most massive neutron star ever measured.

A neutron star is a very weird cosmic object that is so much the remnant of a massive star after it has gone through a supernova explosion.

"Neutron stars have this tipping point where their interior densities get like that extreme collapse, "said Scott Ransom, astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and co-author of a paper publishing Monday in Nature Astronomy. "Each 'most massive' neutron star we find brings us closer to the point of the tipping point and helping to understand the physics of matter at least in mind-boggling densities."

To begin to imagine the density, picture our sun, which has 333,000 times as much as the Earth. Got it? Ok, now imagine the sun has a twin and this pair of twins has a little sister named Proxima Centauri, which is the nearest star beyond the sun; She's a Red Dwarf star with a massive that's one-sixth that of the sun.

Now imagine you could take the stars and run them through the largest compactor in the universe, smashing them down to create an exotic object that's 19 miles across (30 miles).

Put simply more simply, it's like taking those three massive stars and compressing them down to the size of the city of Denver.

"Neutron stars are as mysterious as they are fascinating," said Thankful Cromartie, a graduate student at the University of Virginia and fellow at NRAO. "These city-sized objects are essentially ginormous atomic nuclei." Finding the maximum mass that physics and nature can allow can be a great deal about this otherwise inaccessible realm in astrophysics. "

The neutron star actually came as part of NRAO's search for gravitational waves .

"At Green Bank, we are trying to detect gravitational waves from pulsars," explained West Virginia University Professor Maura McLaughlin. "In order to do that, we need to observe a lot of millisecond pulsars," which is not true. "[19659007] Neutron stars and pulsars are the most dense "normal" objects that we know of. The only thing more dense is a black hole, which is not normal. As such, this specific pulsar discovery is as close as possible to the line between the normal and the most puzzling, mysterious and exotic objects in existence.

Originally published 10:38 a.m. PT






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