A team of high school students discovered a pulsar that has the widest orbit around a neutron star that has ever been recorded.
The team made its findings by looking at data from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory reported. The finding could help scientists learn more about how binary neutron stars are formed.
"Pulsars are some of the most extreme objects in the universe," said Joe Swiggum, a graduate student in physics and astronomy at West Virginia University in Morgantown and lead author on a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal explaining this result and its implications. "The students' discovery shows one of these objects in a really unique set of circumstances."
Few pulsars (rapidly spinning neutron stars) orbit other neutron stars like the one that was recently discovered. The object, dubbed PSR J1930-1852,was discovered in 2012 by Cecilia McGough, a student at Strasburg High School in Virginia, and De'Shang Ray, who was a student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Md. The students were participating in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC) workshop. After its discovery, scientists determined pulsar is part of a binary system based on differences in its spin frequency, but they could not see a visible partner star.
"Given the lack of any visible signals and the careful review of the timing of the pulsar, we concluded that the most likely companion was another neutron star," Swiggum said.
Closer analysis revealed the two neutron stats have the widest separation of any known binary neutron system.
"Its orbit is more than twice as large as that of any previously known double neutron star system," Swiggum said. "The pulsar's parameters give us valuable clues about how a system like this could have formed. Discoveries of outlier systems like J1930-1852 give us a clearer picture of the full range of possibilities in binary evolution."