Astrophysicists link brightening of pulsar wind nebula to pulsar spin-down rate transition

August 26, 2019

Astrophysicists have discovered that the pulsar wind nebula (PWN) surrounding the famous pulsar B0540-69 brightened gradually after the pulsar experienced a sudden spin-down rate transition (SRT). This discovery, made by a group of astrophysicists led by GE Mingyu and LU Fangjun at the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, provides important clues to the spin-down mechanism and the magnetic field structure of the pulsar, as well as the physical properties of the PWN. The results were published in Nature Astronomy.

Pulsars are highly magnetized neutron stars born from supernova explosions of massive stars. They typically have radii about 10 km and surface magnetic field strengths around 1 trillion Gauss. According to classic pulsar theory, an isolated pulsar loses energy through magnetic dipole radiation and thus slows down. However, more and more theorists believe that the main way an isolated pulsar loses its rotational energy is through a relativistic wind consisting of electrons, positrons and possibly magnetic field. If the wind is strong enough, it will eventually form a detectable PWN through interaction with the surrounding materials. The famous Crab nebula is such a PWN, with a size of several light-years, i.e., about a hundred thousand times the distance from Earth to the Sun.

PSR B0540-69 is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, a satellite galaxy about 160,000 light-years from our Milky Way. In December 2011, the spin-down rate of this pulsar suddenly increased by 36% and has remained almost constant since then, which means the energy release rate of the pulsar has also increased by 36%. Unlike other pulsars with similar spin-down rate transitions, which are accompanied by pulse profile and/or flux changes and are attributed to changes in the magnetospheres, no variation in either the pulse profile or flux has been detected from PSR B0540-69, making the cause of its SRT a mystery.

GE stated, "Using data obtained by a few X-ray astronomical satellites, we find that the X-ray PWN around PSR B0540-69 brightened gradually up to 32±8% over the prior flux during the period of about 400 days since the SRT (Fig. 2). We show that the SRT most likely resulted from a sudden enhancement of the magnetic field in the pulsar magnetic pole region, which does not significantly affect the pulsed X-ray emission but increases pulsar wind power and hence PWN X-ray emission." This is the first time that PWN brightening has been observationally connected with the pulsar spin-down rate transition, implying that the pulsar wind is the main factor slowing down the pulsar spin. "The 400-day time scale of the flux increase corresponds to a magnetic field strength of about 0.8 milli-Gauss in the PWN. This is also the first direct measurement of the magnetic field and is consistent with the value estimated before under some assumptions," LU added.
The other investigators on this project include YAN Linli of Anhui Jianzhu University, WENG Shanshan of Nanjing Normal University, ZHANG Shuangnan ,WANG Lingjun and ZHANG Wei of the Institute of High Energy Physics, Q. Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts, and LI Zijian from the Hebei University of Engineering.

Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to