An artist's illustration showing a neutron star (RX J0806.4-4123) with a disc of warm dust that produces an infrared signature. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble.

Astronomers Identify Record-Breaking Mysterious Galactic Source

The discovery was made thanks to the [email protected] project which allows scientists to use tens of thousands of CPUs and GPUs.


Tens of thousands of CPUs (Computer processors) and GPUs (Graphics processing units) helped astronomers identify a mysterious galactic source of gamma rays. Thanks to the [email protected] program, astronomers made use of GPU’s and CPU’s to analyze data and make the discovery which would otherwise not be possible.

Although most of us who have powerful GPU’s and CPU’s in our computers use it for different things like gaming, graphic design, video editing, etc., these hardware components can be used for “greater good.”

By donating their “power” to scientists through an interconnected network, these components can help search the universe in unique ways.

This is precisely what [email protected] does; it has allowed astrophysicists to identify a unique, mysterious galactic source of gamma rays that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, an extremely heavy neutron star with a very low-mass companion orbiting at extreme speeds.

Using novel data analysis methods running on some 10,000 graphics cards in the [email protected] distributed computing project, the team identified the neutron star by its regularly pulsing gamma rays in a deep search of data from the Fermi satellite.

The Fermi Satellite helps scientists explore the cosmos using the highest-energy form of light. It is able to map the entire sky every three hours.

What strikes astrophysicists the most is that this neutron star appears to be invisible in radio waves.

The binary system was characterized by an observation campaign across the entire electromagnetic spectrum and broke several records, researchers have revealed.

Lars Nieder, a doctoral student at AEI (Albert Einstein Institute) in Hanover and author of the study describing the discovery in Astrophysical Journal letters reveals that the binary star system and the neutron star located at its hard–now known in the scientific community as PSR J1653-0158, has set new records.

This illustration shows the entire sky as viewed by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope as well as the recently discovered pulsar by the Einstein@Home. Image Credit: Knispel/Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics/NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration.
This illustration shows the entire sky as viewed by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope as well as the recently discovered pulsar by the [email protected] Image Credit: Knispel/Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics/NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration.

In other words, what scientists have discovered are two different dualities; a galactic dance of a super heavyweight with a flyweight: At a little more than twice the mass of our Sun, the neutron star is extraordinarily heavy. Its companion is about six times the density of lead, but only around 1% of the mass of our Sun.

The strange cosmic couple orbits every 75 minutes, which is faster than all known comparable binaries,” the researchers have revealed.

The new study reveals that the neutron star rotates around its own axis at over 30,000 rpm, making it one of the fastest rotating stars in the universe discovered to date.

Simultaneously, its magnetic field, generally extremely strong in neutron stars, is exceptionally weak.

Om Nom Nom Nom

Scientists have revealed in binary systems like the one they have now discovered; the pulsars are known as ‘black widows’ because, like the spiders of the same name, they eat their mates, so to speak.

“The pulsar vaporizes its companion with its radiation and a wind of particles, filling the star system with plasma that is impenetrable to radio waves,” explained Colin Clark of the Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics and co-author of the study.

Gamma rays, on the other hand, are not stopped by these plasma clouds. The Large Area Telescope (LAT) aboard NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope can spot this radiation.

Scientists also used data from 2014, plus observations with the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma and the precise position of the sky determined by the Gaia satellite to point and focus the computing power of the voluntary distributed computing project [email protected]

This allowed them to obtain a complete sketch of the companion star, and better understand what they were looking at.

The [email protected] is an amazing project that helps astronomers make use of the idle power of CPUs and GPUs for scientific purposes. It allows them, essentially, to combine the power of thousands of “computers” and use them as one. To date, there are more than 479,000 volunteers that contribute to the project. Find out more here.

If you want to help out in future discoveries, I encourage you to sign up with the [email protected] project and participate in our exploration of the universe.

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Source and reference: 
/ AEI / All other sources and references are linked 
throughout the article.

Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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