This Vanishing Neutron Star Helped Astronomers Measure Space-Time Warp
Terzan 5

A team of astronomers have measured the space-time warp in the gravity of a binary star system. The team was also able to determine the mass of a neutron star, right before it vanished from view.

“By precisely tracking the motion of the pulsar, we were able to measure the gravitational interaction between the two highly compact stars with extreme precision,” says University of British Columbia astronomer Ingrid Stairs.

Each star is about 1.3 times heavier than our sun, but sit extremely close to each other. Due to the close proximity of the two stars, the extreme gravity can cause “many remarkable effects” according to Stairs.

As the neutron star orbits the bigger, nearby companion star – its orbit travels through a space-time that is curved. This causes the star’s spin axis to shift. Imagine a spinning top wobbling.

Joeri van Leeuwen, an astrophysicist at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy who led the study, explains what happens next.

“Through the effects of the immense mutual gravitational pull, the spin axis of the pulsar has now wobbled so much that the beams no longer hit Earth.”

Watch the animation below. It shows how the space-time warp eventually affects the orbit enough to where we can’t see the pulsar beams anymore.

This animation gives you a better look at how large the space-time warp effect is on the star’s orbit.

J1906, the binary pulsar system, is one of just a handful of double neutron stars ever measured. The binary system is located 25,000 light years away in the globular cluster Terzan 5 (top picture).

The team of astronomers published their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

Image credit: NASA

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