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Black Widow Pulsars Consume Their Mates

Black widow spiders and their Australian cousins, known as redbacks, are notorious for an unsettling tendency to kill and devour their male partners. Astronomers have noted similar behavior among two rare breeds of binary system that contain rapidly spinning neutron stars, also known as pulsars.

The essential features of black widow and redback binaries are that they place a normal but very low-mass star in close proximity to a millisecond pulsar, which has disastrous consequences for the star. Black widow systems contain stars that are both physically smaller and of much lower mass than those found in redbacks.

So far, astronomers have found at least 18 black widows and nine redbacks within the Milky Way, and additional members of each class have been discovered within the dense globular star clusters that orbit our galaxy.

One black widow system, named PSR J1311-3430 and discovered in 2012, sets the record for the tightest orbit of its class and contains one of the heaviest neutron stars known. The pulsar's featherweight companion, which is only a dozen or so times the mass of Jupiter and just 60 percent of its size, completes an orbit every 93 minutes - less time than it takes to watch most movies.

The side of the star facing the pulsar is heated to more than 21,000 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 12,000 C), or more than twice as hot as the sun's surface. Recent studies allow a range of values extending down to 2 solar masses for the pulsar, making it one of the most massive neutron stars known.

Watch the video to learn more about this system and its discovery from some of the scientists involved.

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Another multimedia item related to this story:
     PSR J1311-3430 'Black Widow' Pulsar Animations (id 11215)
More information on this topic available at:
http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/with-a-deadly-embrace-spidery-pulsars-consume-their-mates/

Learn how astronomers discovered PSR J1311−3430, a record-breaking black widow binary and the first of its kind discovered solely through gamma-ray observations. Greenbank Telescope image credit: NRAO/AUI Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel .    Learn how astronomers discovered PSR J1311−3430, a record-breaking black widow binary and the first of its kind discovered solely through gamma-ray observations.

Greenbank Telescope image credit: NRAO/AUI

Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

For complete transcript, click here.
Duration: 9.7 minutes
Available formats:
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         9 GB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         4 GB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) QT         428 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) QT         353 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) WMV         307 MB
  960x540 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   277 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) QT         270 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   188 MB
  640x360 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   112 MB
  320x240 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   56 MB
  1280x720   TIFF         2 MB
  960x540 (29.97 fps) WEBM         102 MB
  1280x720   JPEG         74 KB
  320x180     JPEG         10 KB
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Short URL to This Page:http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?11216
Animation Number:11216
Completed:2013-03-01
Animators:Cruz DeWilde (Avant Gravity) (Lead)
 Walt Feimer (HTSI)
 Dana Berry (Skyworks Digital)
 Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Video Editor:Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Interviewees:Alice Harding (NASA/GSFC)
 Paul Ray (NRL)
 Roger Romani (Stanford University)
 Holger Pletsch (Albert Einstein Institute)
Narrator:Karen Fox (ASI)
Producer:Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Scientist:Roger Romani (Stanford University)
Videographer:Rob Andreoli (AIMM)
Writers:Francis Reddy (Syneren Technologies)
 Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Series:Narrated Movies
 Astrophysics Animations
 Astrophysics Stills
 Astrophysics Features
Goddard TV Tape:G2013-004 -- Fermi Black Widow Pulsar
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
 
Keywords:
SVS >> Gamma Ray
SVS >> HDTV
SVS >> Music
SVS >> Neutron Star
SVS >> Astrophysics
SVS >> Pulsar
SVS >> Edited Feature
SVS >> Space
SVS >> Fermi
SVS >> Interview
SVS >> Binary Star
DLESE >> Narrated
SVS >> Star
SVS >> Radio Telescope
NASA Science >> Universe
 
 


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Many of our multimedia items use the GCMD keywords. These keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 8.0.0.0.0

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