Washington, July 7 (ANI): Astronomers have used NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to discover 16 pulsars.
A pulsar is the rapidly spinning and highly magnetized core left behind when a massive star explodes. Most of the 1,800 cataloged pulsars were found through their periodic radio emissions.
Astronomers believe these pulses are caused by narrow, lighthouse-like radio beams emanating from the pulsar’s magnetic poles.
“Fermi has truly unprecedented power for discovering and studying gamma-ray pulsars,” said Paul Ray of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.
“Since the demise of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory a decade ago, we’ve wondered about the nature of unidentified gamma-ray sources it detected in our galaxy. These studies from Fermi lift the veil on many of them,” he added.
The new pulsars were discovered as part of a comprehensive search for periodic gamma-ray fluctuations using five months of Fermi Large Area Telescope data and new computational techniques.
“Before launch, some predicted Fermi might uncover a handful of new pulsars during its mission,” said Marcus Ziegler, a member of the team reporting on the new pulsars at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “To discover 16 in its first five months of operation is really beyond our wildest dreams,” he added.
Like spinning tops, pulsars slow down as they lose energy. Eventually, they spin too slowly to power their characteristic emissions and become undetectable.
But pair a slowed dormant pulsar with a normal star, and a stream of stellar matter from the companion can spill onto the pulsar and increase its spin.
At rotation periods between 100 and 1,000 times a second, ancient pulsars can resume the activity of their youth.
In the second study, Fermi scientists examined gamma rays from eight of these “born-again” pulsars, all of which were previously discovered at radio wavelengths.
“Before Fermi launched, it wasn’t clear that pulsars with millisecond periods could emit gamma rays at all,” said Lucas Guillemot at the Center for Nuclear Studies in Gradignan, near Bordeaux, France.
“Now we know they do. It’s also clear that, despite their differences, both normal and millisecond pulsars share similar mechanisms for emitting gamma rays,” he added. (ANI)