Friday, January 16, 2015

Star gets swallowed by warp in space

Time now again for Science Friday.

Space-time warps have long been theorized in space science. Now, we may have actually seen one.

A star has slipped out of view due to the space-time warp it creates as it orbits. While this is certainly a unique enough astronomical finding, it is made all the more interesting because the star is actually a pulsar and also one component of a binary star system. A pulsar is a neutron star (a very dense core of a star, the result of a star collapsing inward on itself) that rapidly rotates. As it rotates, it emits a beacon of electromagnetic radiation, similar in concept to the beam of light from a lighthouse. We can detect these pulses (hence the name) via radio telescopes.

Astronomers had been studying the binary star system known as J1906. Recently, radio waves from the pulsar in the star system could no longer be detected. According to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, objects of extreme mass, such as the pulsar's companion star, are able to warp space and time in the immediate area. The mass of the companion star makes the pulsar actually sink into a dip in space. This causes the axis of the pulsar to shift and the signals are no longer sent in the direction of Earth.

So perhaps "swallow" is the wrong verb here, but still to have evidence of the actual warping of space is pretty fabulous. I mean, an entire star has been more or less obscured from sight.

Day in and day out, I seem to get more fed up with arguing. I'm talking about "primate politics," such as worrying about the fiscal damages of partisan politics and bickering over the alleged shortcomings of the president. Findings like these, that space-time can in fact be warped, remind me that this is still an amazing universe, regardless of our penchant for focusing on the petty.

Here's another amazing thing, though: the pulsar is not gone forever (a "temporary swallowing?") as it is estimated that the pulsar will return in another 160 years.

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