- By Nina Massey
- PA Science Reporter
Astronomers have discovered a new object in the Milky Way that is heavier than the heaviest neutron stars known to scientists and even lighter than black holes.
Researchers in Manchester and Germany found it orbiting a millisecond pulsar 40,000 light-years away.
Millisecond pulsars spin very fast – hundreds of times per second.
Project lead Ben Stoppers, professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester, said it was “exciting”.
Researchers from the University of Manchester and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn believe this could be the first discovery of a radio pulsar-black hole binary – a pair that could open the doors to Einstein's theory of general relativity and exploration. Black holes.
Professor Stoppers added: “A pulsar-black hole system would be an important target for testing theories of gravity and a heavy neutron star would provide new insights into nuclear physics at very high densities.”
When a neutron star – the densest remnants of a dead star – gains too much mass, it collapses.
What happens to them after this is the subject of much speculation, but it is believed that they can become black holes.
The total mass required for a neutron star to collapse is thought to be 2.2 times that of the Sun.
The lightest black holes created by these stars are very massive – about five times the size of the Sun – leading to the so-called “black hole mass gap”.
The nature of objects in this mass interval is unknown and difficult to study.
Researchers say the latest discovery will help scientists finally understand these substances.
The object was discovered using the MeerKAT radio telescope array in South Africa while observing a large star cluster called NGC 1851 in the southern constellation of Columba.
Astronomers say it's so crowded that stars can interact with each other, disrupting orbits and colliding in extreme events.
They believe that a collision between two neutron stars may have created the massive object orbiting the radio pulsar.
While the team can't say for sure whether they've discovered the most massive neutron star to date, the lightest black hole, or some new exotic star variant, they've discovered something that could help probe the properties of matter under extreme conditions. universe.
The findings are published in the journal Science.