For a few years, scientists had been puzzled by mysterious gamma-ray blasts pulsating towards Earth from the vastness of our immense cosmos. But now, they finally know the answer to this celestial mystery. The discovery is doubly special as it was not conducted in an isolated facility with a bunch of white-coat clad scientist alone; instead public participated in this mystery-solving with a project very aptly named Einstein@Home. Through citizen collaboration, scientists have located the millisecond pulsars to a neutron star PSR J2039-5617.
But first, what is a millisecond pulsar?
A pulsar is a very highly magnetized rotating star (neutron or white dwarf) which emits electromagnetic radiation from its magnetic poles. When the rotational speed is led than 10 milliseconds, it is called a millisecond pulsar. Such radiations are only observed when the beam is directly pointed toward Earth.
The observed systems have something known as “redbacks".These have “millisecond pulsar in orbit with a low-mass companion star".A close relative of redbacks are “black widows".If you know spiders, you know black widows consume their male mate after sex. In Black widow systems, companion stars get destroyed in the pulsar’s particle wind and/or intense high-energy radiation.
Discovery made by Einstein@home
Thousands of civilians volunteered their home computing power to aid the work of NASA’s Fermi Telescope's work. As the data was immense, a lot of computing power was required. With the Einstein@home network, Fermi’s data was fine-combed and completed within 2 months. According to experts, one computer alone would have taken 500 years to read this data.
The team then discovered this rapidly rotating neutron star with gamma-ray pulsations which rotates about 377 times each second. The findings have been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“It had been suspected for years that there is a pulsar, a rapidly rotating neutron star, at the heart of the source we now know as PSR J2039-5617,” said Lars Nieder, associated with the project. The object has been known since 2014 as a neutron star to be a source of such emissions but there was no concrete proof before,
PSR J2039-5617 orbits a star which is 1/6th the mass of our sun and is gradually trying to evaporate it.