What makes a regular star into a super star? Hint; it’s not a stint on American Idol. It is a process that causes regular, slowly spinning neutron stars to become a kind of rapidly rotating, super dense star called a pulsar.

Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin, assistant professors in the Department of Physics at West Virginia University, have won a $46,089 grant from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to study a missing link of creation in the lives of millisecond pulsars, the fastest spinning stars in space.

“As far as astronomical objects go, pulsars are the next most exotic things out there after black holes,” explains Lorimer. “They are great fun to study and one of the things we like to do is to piece together how they live their lives.”

Lorimer and McLaughlin are part of an international research team that has been studying a pulsar that is undergoing a recycling process thought to be the missing link that explains how these stars come to spin so quickly. This star system is called J1023.

These neutron stars have about the same mass as the sun, and yet they are only the size of an average city. Due to their great density, they have very large magnetic fields and can spin at a rate of hundreds of times per second.

Scientists believe that an adjacent star dumps material into these pulsar stars, and this material becomes a flat disk around them. The disk of rotating material then causes the star to spin faster and faster until the stream of material stops. During this process, x-rays are produced from the intense heat that is generated. These star systems are referred to as x-ray binary systems.

Recent evidence from J1023 has proved that it was previously a part of one of these x-ray binary systems, giving further evidence that these systems are the potential transitional link that turns a star into a pulsar.

During their research, the physicists will study the expected x-ray emissions from J1023.

“We will observe the system for five complete orbits and look for evidence of x-ray variability that will allow us to better understand the energetics of this environment,” said Lorimer.

For more information, contact Duncan Lorimer, assistant professor of physics, at (304) 293-3422 or Duncan.Lorimer@mail.wvu.edu.

To read more about the missing link visit, http://www.csiro.au/news/A-star-revved-up.html.



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