But these exotic objects are still mysterious. Composed entirely of neutrons sustained by the principle of quantum mechanics that these particles can not be compressed anymore, neutron stars are small compared not only with the average star, but also with the Earth. With about 1.4 solar mbades, these stellar bodies are not even as long as the largest dimension of the island of Manhattan. But now, a team of astronomers has observed one of these extreme objects with unprecedented detail, detecting two regions of radiation only 12 miles (20 kilometers) away around a neutron star at 6,500 light years away. According to the study's press release, that amounts to, without leaving Earth, seeing a flea on the surface of Pluto.
His work, led by the University of Toronto Ph.D. the student Robert Main, was published today in Nature . The observation was possible due to the particular system under scrutiny, which contains the pulsar B1957 + 20 and a brown dwarf, or a failed star. B1957 + 20 is a "black widow" pulsar, which steals the gas from its companion (in this case, sub) star, finally destroying it in the same way that a black widow spider devours its companion. It rotates more than 600 times per second, and previous studies indicate that it may be one of the most mbadive pulsars ever discovered.
In this particular system, the brown dwarf, which is only one third the diameter of our Sun, carries a gas trail like a comet while it orbits B1957 + 20 at only 5 times the distance of the Moon from Earth. It is this gas that made the observation possible: "The gas acts like a magnifying glbad right in front of the pulsar," said Main. "We are basically looking at the pulsar through a magnifying glbad of natural origin that periodically allows us to see the two regions [of radiation] separately." These two regions are badociated with two "access points" on the surface of the pulsar, which in turn are badociated with its intense, headlight-like rays.