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Heaviest-known neutron star ‘black widow’ gobbles up its companion | See pics

A spinning neutron star periodically swings its radio (green) and gamma-ray (magenta) beams past Earth in this artist's concept of a black widow pulsar. The pulsar heats the facing side of its stellar partner to temperatures twice as hot as the sun's surface and slowly evaporates it.  (via REUTERS)Premium
A spinning neutron star periodically swings its radio (green) and gamma-ray (magenta) beams past Earth in this artist's concept of a black widow pulsar. The pulsar heats the facing side of its stellar partner to temperatures twice as hot as the sun's surface and slowly evaporates it.  (via REUTERS)

  • ‘As the heaviest neutron star known, this object presents the densest material in the observable universe. If it was any heavier it should collapse to a black hole,’ researchers said

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The heaviest known neutron star, dubbed "black widow" that got particularly hefty by gobbling up most of the mass of a stellar companion trapped in an unhappy cosmic marriage has been observed by astronomers. Interestingly, the researchers said the neutron star, wildly spinning at 707 times per second, has a mass about 2.35 times greater than that of our sun, putting it perhaps at the maximum possible for such objects before they would collapse to form a black hole, according to Reuters report.

What is a neutron star?

A neutron star is the compact collapsed core of a massive star that exploded as a supernova at the end of its life cycle, in this particular case, the one described by the researchers is a highly magnetized type of neutron star called a pulsar that unleashes beams of electromagnetic radiation from its poles. As it spins, these beams appear from the perspective of an observer on Earth to pulse - akin to a lighthouse's rotating light, the Reuters report said. Notably, there is only one other neutron star is known to spin more quickly than this one.

An artist's conception of a neutron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field, called a magnetar, emitting radio waves (red). Magnetars are a leading candidate for what generates phenomena called fast radio bursts. 
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An artist's conception of a neutron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field, called a magnetar, emitting radio waves (red). Magnetars are a leading candidate for what generates phenomena called fast radio bursts.  (via REUTERS)

Roger Romani, director of Stanford University's Center for Space Science and Astrophysics and a co-author of the research published this week in the Astrophysical Journal Letters informed, "the heavier the neutron star, the denser the material in its core. So as the heaviest neutron star known, this object presents the densest material in the observable universe. If it was any heavier it should collapse to a black hole, and then the stuff inside would be behind the event horizon, forever sealed off from any observation."

An artist's impression of an object located roughly 4,200 light years from our solar system that may be a type of neutron star. 
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An artist's impression of an object located roughly 4,200 light years from our solar system that may be a type of neutron star.  (VIA REUTERS)

It is important to note that a black hole's event horizon is the point of no return beyond which anything including light gets sucked in irretrievably. "Since we don't yet know how matter works at these densities, the existence of this neutron star is an important probe of these physical extremes," Romani said.

The report further highlighted that stars that are about eight or more times the sun's mass transform hydrogen into heavier elements through thermonuclear fusion in their cores. When they build up about 1.4 times the mass of our sun in iron, that core collapses into a neutron star having a diameter only about the size of a city, with the rest blown off in the supernova explosion. Its matter is so compact that an amount about the size of a sugar cube would outweigh Mount Everest, the Reuters reported.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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