Artists rendition of the Swift Pulsar Planet
Credit: Artist: Aurore Simonnet/Sonoma State University; Scientists: Hans Krimm et al.

The Stripper

The death of a star is traumatic for its close relations. Even if the companion survives the breakup, the future is bleak, tied as it is to a corrosive corpse. Astronomers, using the high-energy Swift and RXTE satellite observatories, have found such a sad pair, an object called Swift J1756.9-2508. This object consists of a rapidly spinning neutron star, the remains of a massive star that exploded, paired with what was once a low mass but normal star. But the blast of the neutron star's high energy radiation helped rip most of the outer atmosphere from its companion, and caused its orbit to shrink so that the two stars now orbit close together. In this particular case, togetherness is not such a good thing, since the strong gravity of the neutron star now pulls the remaining material from the companion, as shown in the artist rendition above. This causes the companion to shrink from star to planet size. Perhaps at some point this "star-planet" might entirely be stripped away. But like a greedy spider, eating this material helps rejuvenate the neutron star, making it spin faster and faster.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:20:51 EDT

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