Leicester scientists Swift-ly spot star slowdown

Posted by de57 at May 30, 2013 03:21 PM |
University of Leicester astronomers involved in international discovery of neutron star slowdown
Leicester scientists Swift-ly spot star slowdown

An artist's rendering of an outburst on an ultra-magnetic neutron star, also called a magnetar. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

University of Leicester astronomers have contributed to an international discovery of a new phenomenon on a neutron star – one of the densest objects in the universe.

Using observations by NASA's Swift satellite, an international team of astronomers has identified an abrupt slowdown in the rotation of a neutron star.

A neutron star is the crushed core of a massive star that ran out of fuel, collapsed under its own weight, and exploded as a supernova. It's the closest thing to a black hole that astronomers can observe directly, compressing half a million times Earth's mass into a ball 10 to 20km across - roughly the size of Leicester. Matter within a neutron star is so dense that a teaspoonful would weigh about a billion tons on Earth.

Neutron stars spin rapidly, reaching speeds up to 43,000 rpm, comparable to the blades of a kitchen blender, and they boast magnetic fields a trillion times stronger than Earth's

The discovery has important implications for understanding the extreme physical conditions present within neutron stars, conditions that no laboratory on Earth could replicate.

A report on the findings appears in the May 30 edition of the journal Nature.

The Space Research Centre, based in the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, was responsible for building the X-ray camera onboard the Swift satellite.

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