Nav: Home

WVU astronomers help detect the most massive neutron star ever measured

September 16, 2019

West Virginia University researchers have helped discover the most massive neutron star to date, a breakthrough uncovered through the Green Bank Telescope in Pocahontas County.

The neutron star, called J0740+6620, is a rapidly spinning pulsar that packs 2.17 times the mass of the sun (which is 333,000 times the mass of the Earth) into a sphere only 20-30 kilometers, or about 15 miles, across. This measurement approaches the limits of how massive and compact a single object can become without crushing itself down into a black hole.

The star was detected approximately 4,600 light-years from Earth. One light-year is about six trillion miles.

These findings, from the National Science Foundation-funded NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center, were published today (Sept. 16) in Nature Astronomy.

Authors on the paper include Duncan Lorimer, astronomy professor and Eberly College of Arts and Sciences associate dean for research; Eberly Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy Maura McLaughlin; Nate Garver-Daniels, system administrator in the Department of Physics and Astronomy; and postdocs and former students Harsha Blumer, Paul Brook, Pete Gentile, Megan Jones and Michael Lam.

The discovery is one of many serendipitous results, McLaughlin said, that have emerged during routine observations taken as part of a search for gravitational waves.

"At Green Bank, we're trying to detect gravitational waves from pulsars," she said. "In order to do that, we need to observe lots of millisecond pulsars, which are rapidly rotating neutron stars. This (the discovery) is not a gravitational wave detection paper but one of many important results which have arisen from our observations."

The mass of the pulsar was measured through a phenomenon known as "Shapiro Delay." In essence, gravity from a white dwarf companion star warps the space surrounding it, in accordance with Einstein's general theory of relativity. This makes the pulses from the pulsar travel just a little bit farther as they travel through the distorted spacetime around white dwarf. This delay tells them the mass of the white dwarf, which in turn provides a mass measurement of the neutron star.

Neutron stars are the compressed remains of massive stars gone supernova. They're created when giant stars die in supernovas and their cores collapse, with the protons and electrons melting into each other to form neutrons.

To visualize the mass of the neutron star discovered, a single sugar-cube worth of neutron-star material would weigh 100 million tons here on Earth, or about the same as the entire human population.

While astronomers and physicists have studied these objects for decades, many mysteries remain about the nature of their interiors: Do crushed neutrons become "superfluid" and flow freely? Do they breakdown into a soup of subatomic quarks or other exotic particles? What is the tipping point when gravity wins out over matter and forms a black hole?

"These stars are very exotic," McLaughlin said. "We don't know what they're made of and one really important question is, 'How massive can you make one of these stars?' It has implications for very exotic material that we simply can't create in a laboratory on Earth."

Pulsars get their name because of the twin beams of radio waves they emit from their magnetic poles. These beams sweep across space in a lighthouse-like fashion. Some rotate hundreds of times each second.

Since pulsars spin with such phenomenal speed and regularity, astronomers can use them as the cosmic equivalent of atomic clocks. Such precise timekeeping helps astronomers study the nature of spacetime, measure the masses of stellar objects and improve their understanding of general relativity.
-end-


West Virginia University

Related Science Articles:

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.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.