DEC 28, 2016 10:50 AM PST

'Star Spots' Spotted on MSP's Companion Star for the First Time

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

You may be very familiar with Sunspots, which are dark parts of the Sun that tend to be associated with solar winds because of weaknesses in the Sun’s magnetic field, but it’s also possible for other stars in the universe to exhibit similar spots; these are known as star spots rather than Sunspots for obvious reasons.

While we’ve spotted star spots on other stars before, an amateur astronomer has teamed up with a professional astrophysicist to do something that has reportedly never been done before.

The duo of researchers has reportedly discovered star spots in a companion star in a binary system with what’s known as a millisecond pulsar (MSP), which is a special kind of pulsar that is among the fastest-spinning in our entire Milky Way galaxy.

An artist's impression of a pulsar binary system.

Image Credit: NASA

According to a study that made its way into the Astrophysical Journal, the companion star also has a very strong magnetic field, but scientists can also assume that the star spots are particular points of weakness in that magnetic field, just like Sunspots are on our Sun.

The findings were made possible by analyzing data recorded over a 15-month period by a 30cm reflector telescope in amateur astronomer André van Staden’s back yard.

In a pulsar, the gravitational forces of the dense object in the binary system will grab and pull on material from the companion star, distorting it into a teardrop shape.

As that object orbits the pulsar, it will appear brightest at two points during the orbit when the teardrop shape is visible, thanks to the additional surface area that equates to more light. At other points, the star is seen as more circular, which means less surface area and less brightness as a result.

The researchers took this into account while observing the distant MSP, noting that something was odd about the brightness levels at certain points in the orbital cycle. At some points in the orbit where they would expect the star to appear brighter, this wasn’t always the case.

The two attributed the dimness during certain points of the companion star’s orbital cycle to start spots, which would hinder its brightness.

To make that much of an impact on the star’s brightness, the two also concluded that the star spots must be significantly larger in correlation to the star’s diameter than the Sunspots are in correlation to the Sun’s diameter. That said, these are some massive star spots.

"The dataset was unlike anything I had ever seen," says professional astrophysicist John Antoniadis after receiving van Staden's data, "both in terms of quality and timespan. And I urged André to continue observing for as long as possible."

MSPs are highly misunderstood, and in recent years, more questions have arisen because they’re not particularly common, nor are they close by and easy to observe. There are a lot of complex facts about these things of nature that we still don’t quite understand, and additional research may help us to continue answering the onslaught of questions we continue to have today.

Source: EurekAlert

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
MAR 30, 2020
Space & Astronomy
If Gravity Has Mass, This Could Explain Dark Energy
MAR 30, 2020
If Gravity Has Mass, This Could Explain Dark Energy
The Big Bang purportedly transpired 13.8 billion years ago, and even so, the universe continues to expand even today. Bu ...
APR 21, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Did This Interstellar Comet Reveal Vital Clues About its Origins?
APR 21, 2020
Did This Interstellar Comet Reveal Vital Clues About its Origins?
Oumuamua received tons of attention from astronomers once it was confirmed to be an interstellar object of unknown origi ...
MAY 03, 2020
Space & Astronomy
These Contractors Will Develop Lunar Landers for NASA's Artemis Mission
MAY 03, 2020
These Contractors Will Develop Lunar Landers for NASA's Artemis Mission
NASA seems to be moving quickly to get the ball rolling for its lunar-centric initiative dubbed Artemis. The program aim ...
MAY 12, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Here's What Would Happen if You Fired a Gun in Outer Space
MAY 12, 2020
Here's What Would Happen if You Fired a Gun in Outer Space
Many of the world’s greatest science fiction films depict massive battles in outer space between starships and eve ...
JUL 23, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Was There a Magnetic Network of Cosmic Scale?
JUL 23, 2020
Was There a Magnetic Network of Cosmic Scale?
William Gilbert, the British physicist and physician who experimentally verified the magnetic nature of our planet, cont ...
JUL 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Active Volcanoes Discovered on Venus
JUL 26, 2020
Active Volcanoes Discovered on Venus
New research has identified 37 volcanic structures on Venus that are thought to have been active recently.
Loading Comments...