What is a Pulsar and Why are they Incredibly Deadly?

By on Mar 19, 2014 in For Your Information | 0 comments

What is a Pulsar and Why are they Incredibly Deadly?

 

Chandra Crab

Credit: NASA

 

Pulsars are one of the most energetic and deadly death rays that exist in the universe, and you know what makes them even worse? When they are pointed at Earth.  First things first is laying down the definition of a pulsar. A pulsar is basically the endpoint of a stellar evolution. Think of a star, at least 8 times bigger and no more than 50 times bigger than our Sun, that spends its happy life fusing atoms and burning up oxygen, helium, hydrogen and so on. Then near the end of its life it gets to a point where it exceeds the Chandrasekhar limit and the star collapses upon itself and exerting most of its energy and mass outward until it is halted by a neutron degeneracy and all that’s left is a dense neutron star. These neutron stars are only about 13 km in radius and spins 642 times per second! But then something strange happens with the neutron star and a misalignment between the stars rotation axis and magnetic axis cause “pulses” of high energy radiation. It appears to be pulsing to observers because of its rotation but it’s actually continuous. If we observed this from far away it would look like a cosmic light house.

 

Neutron stars have very very very strong magnetic fields, so strong in fact, that it’s a trillion times stronger than Earth’s. So when a neutron star has a misalignment with it’s magnetic axis you know things are about to get even more intense. So when you have an incredibly fast spinning neutron star coupled with this strong magnetic field you get an intense electric field that outputs 1 trillion volts and possibly even higher than that. To put this in a perspective, a single cubic meter of this electric field produces more energy than humans have ever produced combined to date. There are also a special group of pulsars known as the millisecond pulsars. These pulsars are spinning so fast that it takes 10 milliseconds or less to complete a rotation. Today there have been more than 300 of these millisecond pulsars found so far. Here are some of the different kinds of pulsars:

 

  1. Rotation – these are powered pulsars where the loss of rotational energy provides power.
  2. Accretion – powered pulsars , where the gravitational potential energy of accreted matter is the source of power
  3. Magnetar – where the decay of an extremely strong magnetic field provides electromagnetic power.

 

Neutron Star

 

There have been about 100 x-ray pulsars found out of the total of 1800 pulsars. Pulsars have also been included on the two Pioneer plaques and the golden record on Voyager to show where we are located in relation to them. There is still a lot to learn about pulsars and they were only first discovered in 1967. If you want to learn more about pulsars then read more here.

 

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Zain is a digital marketer (SEO) for a large brand and has an enormous passion for astronomy. In his spare time he volunteers for Penny4NASA.org, York University Observatory , and contributes to sites like Astronaut.com. He also loves to rock climb, take photos, and play / create music.

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