A pulsar represents the dense, whirling remains of a star that exploded. For the first time in history, scientists were able to take precise measurements of a pulsar. The results were reported in a study published in several papers in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Sharon Morsink, an astrophysicist at the University of Alberta, played a crucial role in the project. She was part of the team that developed the theoretical framework and software used to analyze the data collected by NASA’s NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) X-ray telescope and transform it into valuable information.
“NICER is measuring the X-rays emanating from a pulsar roughly the size of Edmonton from a distance of 1,100 light-years. The distances involved give us just a single pixel of data—which we need to then interpret into an understanding of the pulsar itself,” Morsink said.
The pulsar in question is J0030+0451, a neutron star spinning 205 times a second. J0030+0451 is located 1,100 light-years away in the constellation Pisces, having a strong magnetic field present at various locations on its surface, where temperatures are extremely high.
According to Morsink, the team observed the X-ray measurement getting brighter as the pulsar spins, dimming periodically as the hot spots rotate.
Although the team encountered difficulties in measuring the pulsar, the scientists prevailed despite the challenge. They managed to provide the first precise measurement of the neutron star’s mass and diameter.
In addition, a few other surprising findings were revealed to them during the process. For example, even though the star is only 26 kilometers in diameter, it weighs one and a half times more than our sun.
Even more, the team discovered that the magnetic hot spots are all located on one side of the star, indicating a magnetic field similar to a horseshoe magnet. This is a totally unexpected result, and scientists are still wondering what it means.