Link #95: Pulsars Can Spin As Fast As 43,000 Times per Minute!



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Link #95: Pulsars Can Spin As Fast As 43,000 Times per Minute!

Pulsar by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, cc2.0

In our last post, we described how every human being has the same pattern of lines on his or her body. These lines, which can only be seen with ultraviolet light or with dermatological diseases, are known as Blaschko’s Lines.

While knowing that you have lines on your body which are only visible in ultraviolet light will surprise many of you, there are many things happening in the universe that are beyond our ability to see.

One of these is a pulsar which is a type of neutron star that can produce pulses of ultraviolet and gamma rays along with radio waves. How are pulsars special? Read on and find out!

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How Fast Can Pulsars Spin?

Schematic view of a pulsar. Image credit: Mysid and Jm smits, GFDL.

As of current scientific knowledge, a pulsar can spin up to 43,000 times every 60 seconds. This speed has already been recorded in a millisecond pulsar which isn’t only the fastest spinning object in the universe, but also the fastest orbiting star.

This pulsar completes an orbit around its companion in a matter of 93 minutes at a speed of 13,000 km per hour. Effectively, this star travels more than 25 percent of the distance between Earth and Moon in the time that it takes you to watch a full movie.

If this is not enough to wow you then you don’t need to look further than this millisecond pulsar’s stellar companion. While this millisecond pulsar is the fastest orbiting star in the universe, its companion is the fastest orbiting object in the universe. Its companion is orbiting at a whopping speed of 2.8 million km per hour.

What Are Pulsars?

Artist’s impression of the pulsar PSR J0348+0432 and its white dwarf companion. Image credit: ESO/L. Calçada, cc4.0

Pulsars are essentially a type of neutron stars. Neutron stars are extremely small stars that contain almost nothing else but neutrons. Typically, matter consists of small particles known as atoms. The nature of the particle is usually decided by the number of electrons, neutrons and protons in its atoms.

Electrons carry a negative charge, protons a positive charge and neutrons balance them out with no charge. A neutron star, thus, contains almost nothing else but neutrons.

They are formed when a star four to eight times larger than our sun forms a supernova, i.e., explodes. While the outer portion of the star in question dissipates into space, the core becomes stronger and tighter. Ultimately, the matter in a neutron star gets packed into a sphere that is only 10 to 20 km wide.

Effectively, a neutron star is smaller than most medium to large cities on Earth but contains 1.4 times more mass than the Sun. Pulsars are basically neutron stars from which huge beams of matter and light come out.

Pulsars are usually found with a companion. Their respective spins and gravitational relationship causes the pulsar to leach out matter from the companion. When this matter interacts with the magnetism and gravity of the pulsar, the beams of light are released.

This makes a pulsar like a lighthouse that sends out beams of light at regular intervals. These pulses of light are the difference between a neutron star and a pulsar.

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