Neutron Star Glitch Reveals Hidden Secrets

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Neutron stars are the densest objects known in the Universe and they rotate extremely fast and regularly, until some point when their rotation just simply stops.

Glitching

Sometimes neutron stars start spinning faster because of portions inside the star moving outwards. This is called a “glitch” and it provides astronomers info about what lies within these fascinating objects.

The Vela Pulsar

A recently published paper written by Nature Astronomy, a team from Monash University, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, McGill University in Canada and the University of Tasmania studied the Vela Pulsar, which is a neutron star in the southern sky, located about 1.000 light-years away.

Greg Ashton, the paper’s first author says that Vela is famous not only because it’s one of the rare cases of a pulsar glitching but because it glitches about once every three years, being a great attraction for “glitch hunters”.

After reanalyzing data from observations of the Vela glitch from 2016 taken by co-author Dr. Jim Palfreyman from the University of Tasmania, Dr. Ashton and his team discovered that during the glitch the star actually started spinning even faster before slowing down to a final state. This observation was important because it represented the first time scientists got a glimpse into the interior of the star, discovering that the inside of the star is made out of three different components.

“One of these components, a soup of superfluid neutrons in the inner layer of the crust, moves outwards first and hits the rigid outer crust of the star causing it to spin up,” said Doctor Lasky. “But then, the second soup of superfluid that moves in the core catches up to the first causing the spin of the star to slow back down.

This overshoot has been predicted a couple of times in the literature, but this is the first real-time it’s been identified in observations,” he added.

Unknown cause

Doctor Ashton also said that immediately before the glitch, they noticed that the star seems to slow down its rotation speed before spinning back up again and that they don’t have a precise idea of why that happens, as it’s their first time observing such an occurrence.


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