Heaviest Neutron Star Ever Discovered Is a “Black Widow”

The most massive neutron star ever discovered is destroying its companion while rotating over 700 times per second on its axis.

In the constellation Sextans, roughly 3,000 light-years from Earth, the neutron star, also known as PSR J0952-0607, was found in 2017. The star is the known heaviest neutron star; according to recent studies, it weighs 2.35 times as much as the sun.

The remains of supernova explosions that occur when gigantic stars die when their cores run out of fuel are known as neutron stars. These stellar corpses are left behind by dying giant stars. These stars are the densest known things in the universe excluding black holes, even though they are only a few miles across and have a mass that equals or exceeds that of the entire sun.

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The only way to see neutron stars, which are born spinning and emit radio waves, X-rays, and gamma rays like cosmic lighthouses, is through their beams. They are usually referred to as pulsars due to their tendency to flash or pulse.

Around once every second, most pulsar rotate rather slowly. On the other side, PSR J0952-0607 spins at a rate of over 700 rotations per second, making it one of the most rapidly rotating neutron stars yet observed (in addition to being the heaviest). PSR J0952-0607 can assist researchers in resolving important concerns concerning the nature of these perplexing objects because of their singular characteristics.

For instance, according to science, neutron stars collide with one another and become black holes when they become too heavy. However, they are unsure of the mass at which this process of collapsing occurs. Additionally, they are unaware of the nature of the matter inside these stars, which is so dense that atoms are probably unable to live there in their normal form instead of becoming squished into a soup of free-floating quarks (the constituents of protons and neutrons). In fact, one cubic inch (16 cubic centimeters) of neutron star material weighs more than 10 billion tonnes due to its extreme density.

Alex Filippenko, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the study's authors stated in a statement that we have a general understanding of how matter behaves at nuclear concentrations, such as in the nucleus of an atom. “A neutron star is like one huge nucleus, but when you have one and a half solar masses of this stuff, which is roughly 500,000 Earth masses of nuclei all clinging together, it's not at all apparent how they will behave,” the astronomer said in reference to the nuclei that make up neutron stars.

PSR J0952-0607 is a component of the binary black widow pulsar system. These systems contain a neutron star that eats mass from a companion star and is named after the infamous black widow spiders, which eat their partners after mating. The incredible rotational speed of these pulsars is caused by this infalling debris.

Due to their extreme faintness, the neutron stars in the center of the black widow pulsars are quite challenging to study on their own.

By concentrating on the remnants of the companion star, which had by this point shrunk to the size of a giant planet roughly 20 times the size of Jupiter, the researchers were able to determine the mass of PSR J0952-0607. They were able to collect the spectra of the visible light given out by the vanishing companion using the 3.2-feet (10 meters) W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea in Hawaii. They were able to determine the mass of the neutron star and gauge the companion star's orbital velocity by comparing the spectra to those of other stars with similar properties.

About a dozen black widow binary systems have been researched in recent years by Filippenko and his Stanford University colleague Roger W. Romani, but only six of them had a companion star luminous enough to allow them to determine the mass of the neutron star.

We demonstrate that neutron stars must have a minimum mass of 2.35 solar masses plus or minus 0.17 solar masses [before collapsing into black holes] by combining this measurement with that of numerous other black widows,” Romani added in the announcement. “As a result, some of the tightest restrictions on the characteristics of matter at densities several times greater than those seen in atomic nuclei are subsequently provided. This finding actually excludes a large number of dense-matter physics models that were previously widely accepted.”

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