When your computer succeeds, the screen may freeze for a few seconds before quickly jumping forward to correct itself. When a neutron star glitches happens much the same – except in this case, the screen is a swirling magnetic field 3 trillion times the size of the earth .
Neutron stars – dense, fast-spinning corpses of once-giant stars that pack about 1.5 times the sun in a ball about the same length as Manhattan – are always puzzling. But the roughly 5% of neutron stars known to "glitch," or suddenly spin faster without any obvious reason before slowing to their normal speed, are particularly odd.
What makes some neutron stars reliably emit a few seconds by a few years, while others seem to never fall out of step? Researchers have come up with a dozen different models to try to answer this question, but are still light years away from a consensus. Now a paper published yesterday (August 1
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For the paper, the researchers looked at a nearby neutron star called Vela pulses, orbiting about 1,000 light years from Earth and spins about 11 times per second. (A pulse is a neutron star that spins so fast that when observed with a radio telescope from Earth, its magnetic field appears to be pulsed like a strobe light.) Well, a dense, dead star, is known for reliable glitching every three years or so. so, and it was caught accelerated by 2016.
By carefully analyzing this glitch in 2016, the researchers discovered that the Vela spin changed in three distinct phases. First, the spinning slowed down significantly for a few seconds; Then it exponentially accelerated for about 12 seconds before finally declining back to its normal rate a minute later.
The study's author said that these distinct phases indicate that neutron stars have three internal components that contribute to a problem: a stiff crust of ions coupled in a lattice pattern, a roiling "soup" of free-floating neutrons that form the star's liquid inner crust, and a hyper-dense nucleus made of protons, neutrons and possibly more exotic particles. (No one really knows what is at the center of a neutron star yet.)
Normally, the researchers wrote, all three layers of the star would spin independently and at different speeds – but for a wrong reason, the different components are likely engaging each other in unusual ways. According to one model, it starts when the soupy center layer of neutrons connects to the slower moving crust and transmits its speed forward, causing the star to pulse faster. Soon, however, the dense liquid at the core of the star clings to the middle layer, slowing everything down again.
This explanation fits Vela's glittering behavior, the authors wrote. However, the star's initial decline phase is another story. According to lead study author Greg Ashton, assistant professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, Vella's slowdown in 2016 is "the first time [this phenomenon] has ever seen" in a gliding star.
"We actually have no idea why this is," Ashton said in a statement .
This preliminary slowdown can be a type of triggering event that leads to all neutron stars. But without other data supporting that hypothesis right now, the slowdown can just as easily be a one-off deviation. You can even call discovery a problem … but let's not complicate things.
Originally published on Live Science .