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Neutron Stars, Pulsars, Magnetars – the “corpses” of medium-sized stars.

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Presentation on theme: "Neutron Stars, Pulsars, Magnetars – the “corpses” of medium-sized stars."— Presentation transcript:

1 Neutron Stars, Pulsars, Magnetars – the “corpses” of medium-sized stars

2 What is a Neutron Star? The collapsed core of a medium-sized star, 11 to 50 times the mass of our sun. The core of this star had to have a mass greater than the Chandrasekhar Limit, 1.4 times the sun’s mass. Why?

3 Inverse Beta Decay When the core is heavier than 1.4 solar masses, its gravity is so strong that the protons and electrons in the star’s atoms are squeezed together, becoming neutrons. p + + e - n 0

4 How Dense? The density of a neutron star can be as high as 10 17 kilograms per cubic meter (kg/m 3 ). A single teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh 1 billion tons!

5 What’s in it? A neutron star is only about 80% neutrons. The rest is a weird fluid of protons & electrons. There is almost no empty space between the particles in the star. The pressure of the neutrons pushing against each other is what prevents the star’s further collapse.

6 How big is it? A “typical” neutron star is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) in diameter – the same as a city like Columbus. Because their size is controlled by gravity, more-massive neutron stars are actually smaller than less-massive ones.

7 New York City in the background

8 How is it structured? An inner superconducting core of neutrons and protons with a radius of about 11 km. A mantle of neutrons about 4 km thick. A crystalline crust of iron and electrons about 1 km thick. An atmosphere a few centimeters thick, made mostly of iron atoms.


10 How much gravity? Even the lowest mass neutron stars have surface gravities that may be 100 billion G’s. Because of this, the escape speed from the star’s surface may be up to 80% of the speed of light. A neutron star warps or bends the space around it, causing nearby gas to fall onto its surface at incredible speeds.

11 How much gravity? Because the gravity is so strong near a neutron star, anything that falls onto its surface hits with incredible energy. An ordinary marshmallow dropped from orbit onto the surface of a neutron star would release more kinetic energy than a World War II era atomic bomb!

12 ARE Pulsars ARE Neutron Stars! So…what’s the difference between a neutron star and a pulsar? Probably nothing. The one thing we do know is that a pulsar is simply a rapidly spinning neutron star. How do we know they’re spinning?

13 Spinning Stars? We know pulsars are spinning, because they give off regularly-timed radio signals. The first signals were detected by a 24 year old Cambridge University astronomy graduate student, Jocelyn Bell, in 1967.

14 Jocelyn Bell in 1967.

15 Regular Radio Signals? How could extremely regular radio signals arise from a natural process? This is the question astronomers asked each other when the first few pulsars were discovered.

16 Project L.G.M. There weren’t any good explanations back then…. Astronomers (and the government) were concerned that these were signals from an extraterrestrial civilization. The data wasn’t released to the public for several months. The government kept the data hush-hush, and called the project L.G.M. - for “little green men”.

17 Pulsar Characteristics To date, more than 350 pulsars have been identified and studied. The regular radio pulses are only a few milliseconds long (thousands of a second). The time interval between pulses can be as short as 1.6 milliseconds, or as long as 4 seconds. Over time, the pulse frequency slows down.

18 So…how are the signals made? Remember that a neutron star has an outer crust of iron atoms and electrons, and a core of neutrons and protons. If the neutron star is spinning, an electric current flows through the star, generating a magnetic field.

19 So…how are the signals made? The spinning star has a lot of left-over heat energy, the energy of its spinning, and lots of energy from gas falling onto its surface. The pulsar gets rid of some of this energy by shining a light beam out along the magnetic field. The “light” ranges from radio waves to gamma rays. Radio is most common.

20 The Lighthouse Model If the magnetic field of the pulsar is tilted relative to its spin axis, this light beam flashes through space like the beam from the lighthouse.





25 Listen to some pulsar sounds A slowly-rotating pulsar A quicker pulsar A fast pulsar A millisecond pulsar A really fast millisecond pulsar /Sounds/sounds.html /Sounds/sounds.html

26 Imagine What This Means…. This model implies that an object with at least 1.4 times the mass of the sun, and 10 miles in diameter can rotate in as little as 0.0016 seconds! What an incredible amount of energy!

27 Famous Pulsars The most famous pulsar in our sky is PSR 0531+121, the Crab Nebula pulsar in Taurus. This pulsar (and the nebula around it) is all that’s left of a supernova that exploded in 1054 A.D. The Crab pulsar still rotates about 30 times per second – a fairly fast rate.

28 The Crab Nebula Pulsar The Crab pulsar gives off all types of electromagnetic radiation, from radio to gamma rays. This is the only pulsar known to “shine” in the entire frequency spectrum. The Crab pulsar emits so much energy in its “lighthouse” beams that the flashes are equivalent to 100 times the sun’s luminosity.



31 Another Famous Pulsar Another famous pulsar is PSR 0833-45, in the constellation Vela. This pulsar is in the Gum Nebula, part of the cloud that is the Vela supernova remnant. Vela is a far southern constellation.

32 PSR 0833-45

33 So what is a “magnetar”? “On March 5, 1979, gamma ray detectors on nine spacecraft across our solar system recorded an intense radiation spike (of gamma rays). It was just 0.2 of a second long - with as much energy as the sun releases in 1,000 years - followed by a 200-second emission that showed a clear 8-second pulsation period. The position tied the burst to a supernova remnant known as N49 in the Large Magellanic Cloud.”

34 “Immediately, scientists recognized something odd. N49's youth - it's only a few thousand years old - contrasted with its 8-second spin, typical of a much older neutron star. Something was putting the brakes on it.” Quote from: ‘Magnetar discovery solves 19-year-old mystery’ from Science @NASA…

35 Intense Magnetic Field Some neutron stars appear to be able to form a more intense magnetic field than others…some as strong as 1000 trillion times the strength of the earth’s magnetic field. These stars are magnetars (magnetic stars). This intense magnetic field slows the pulsar’s rotation and causes intense “star quakes” that release enormous amounts of energy.

36 Soft Gamma Ray Bursts The energy of the star quakes is released along the poles of the magnetar’s magnetic field, in the form of “soft” gamma rays. (“Soft” gamma rays are longer in wavelength than “hard” gamma rays – more like a high energy X-ray.)


38 Magnetar Animation adlines/ast20may98_1.htm#anchor484339 adlines/ast20may98_1.htm#anchor484339 Go to the bottom of the web page & choose Internet connection speed.



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