Mystery 'pulsar' keeps scientists on their toes

Starry phenomenon

Mystery 'pulsar' keeps scientists on their toes

A mysterious ‘pulsar’ star in the outer space, thought to be unusual in its irregular flashes of radio waves, has prompted scientists to work on newer theories in physics to explain its characteristics.

An international team of researchers, including two Indians, spotted the chameleon pulsar that flips its fundamental characteristics within seconds stumping the scientists who are yet to find an answer to the celestial body's enigmatic behaviour.

“This behaviour can not be explained with the current knowledge of physics. We need to go into unknown areas,” Dipanjan Mitra, scientist at National Centre for Radio Astronomy in Pune and one of the members of an international team that discovers the mysterious behaviour of the pulsar B0943+10, told Deccan Herald. Pulsars are small neutron stars (the fastest ones spinning as a speed of 1000 times a second) having diameters of about 20 km – more or less the size of a small city.

They are more massive than the Sun and are so dense that a sugar cube of neutron star matter would weigh about 100 million tons.

Despite being discovered more than 45 years ago the exact mechanism by which pulsars flash is still unknown.

These esoteric objects emit oppositely directed beams of radiation from their magnetic poles, which can be detected from the earth when the beam is focused towards the earth just like a beacon.

As the star spins and the beam sweeps repeatedly past the Earth, brief flashes can be observed by telescopes.

Three telescopes -- European Space Agency's XMM Newton satellite, Giant Meter-wave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune and Low Frequency Array in the Netherlands – carefully watched this pulsar.

Three telescopes -- European Space Agency's XMM Newton satellite, Giant Meter-wave Radio Telescope near Pune and Low Frequency Array in the Netherlands – carefully watched this pulsar.

The pulsar flipped between two extreme states -- one dominated by X-ray pulses and the other by a highly-organised pattern of radio pulses within seconds. The switch-over happens in every few hours.

“What we find cannot be explained with these classical models. The detailed results are a complete surprise and all theories have to be revisited,” said Wim Hermsen from The Netherlands Institute for Space Research who is the lead author for the paper, which will appear in the journal Science on Friday.

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