Universe  ID: 4645

Pulsar Current Sheets - Electron flows

Scientists studying what amounts to a computer-simulated “pulsar in a box” are gaining a more detailed understanding of the complex, high-energy environment around spinning neutron stars, also called pulsars. The model traces the paths of charged particles in magnetic and electric fields near the neutron star, revealing behaviors that may help explain how pulsars emit gamma-ray and radio pulses with ultraprecise timing.

A pulsar is the crushed core of a massive star that exploded as a supernova. The core is so compressed that more mass than the Sun's squeezes into a ball no wider than Manhattan Island in New York City. This process also revvs up its rotation and strengthens its magnetic and electric fields.

Various physical processes ensure that most of the particles around a pulsar are either electrons or their antimatter counterparts, positrons. To trace the behavior and energies of these particles, the researchers used a comparatively new type of pulsar model called a “particle in cell” (PIC) simulation.

The PIC technique lets scientists explore the pulsar from first principles, starting with a spinning, magnetized meutron star. The computer code injects electrons and positrons at the pulsar's surface and tracks how they interact with the electric and magnetic fields. It's computationally intensive because the particle motions affect the fields and the fields affect the particles, and everything is moving near the speed of light.

This visualization shows the high-speed electrons moviing around the pulsar. Darker blue trails represent slow electrons. White trails indicate high speed (relativisitic) particles. There are more high-speed electrons outside the current sheet.
 

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Visualization Credits

Tom Bridgman (GST): Lead Data Visualizer
Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Lead Producer
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

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Data Used:
Brambilla Pulsar Model
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

This item is part of these series:
Astrophysics Visualizations
Pulsar Current Sheets

Keywords:
SVS >> Electron
SVS >> Magnetic Fields
SVS >> Neutron Star
SVS >> Positron
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Pulsar
NASA Science >> Universe