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Pulsar Punches Hole In Stellar Disk

For Release: July 22, 2015

CXC

psrb1259
X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/G.Pavlov et al; Illustration: 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 40 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 companion star. The combination of rapid rotation and intense magnetic field of the pulsar has generated a strong wind of high-energy particles moving away from the pulsar at near the speed of light.

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.” 

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