Fermi Discovers Youngest Millisecond Pulsar

An international team of scientists using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has discovered a surprisingly powerful millisecond pulsar that challenges existing theories about how these objects form. At the same time, another team has exploited improved analytical techniques to locate nine new gamma-ray pulsars in Fermi data.

A pulsar, also called a neutron star, is the closest thing to a black hole astronomers can observe directly, crushing half a million times more mass than Earth into a sphere no larger than a city. This matter is so compressed that even a teaspoonful weighs as much as Mount Everest.

Typically, millisecond pulsars are a billion years or more old, ages commensurate with a stellar lifetime. But in the Nov. 3 issue of Science, the Fermi team reveals a bright, energetic millisecond pulsar only 25 million years old.

The object, named PSR J1823—3021A, lies within NGC 6624, a spherical assemblage of ancient stars called a globular cluster, one of about 160 similar objects that orbit our galaxy. The cluster is about 10 billion years old and lies about 27,000 light-years away toward the constellation Sagittarius.

"With this new batch of pulsars, Fermi now has detected more than 100, which is an exciting milestone when you consider that before Fermi's launch only seven of them were known to emit gamma rays," said Pablo Saz Parkinson, an astrophysicist at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, University of California Santa Cruz.

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