The European Space Agency has discovered a pulsar – the spinning corpse of a once massive star – that emits in one second the same amount of energy as the Sun over 3.5 years.
Ten times brighter than previously thought possible, the pulsar is also the most distant ever detected, at 50 million light years from Earth.
Pulsars are among the most extraordinary features of the universe, sweeping regular pulses of radiation in symmetrical beams across the cosmos.
The corpses of once massive stars that exploded as supernova, before shrinking into dense emitters of X-rays, pulsars are neutron stars. If aligned with Earth, their beams flash on and off as they spin.
Gian Luca Israel, from INAF-Osservatorio Astronomica di Roma, Italy, lead author of the new study which was published Science this week, said:
“Before, it was believed that only black holes at least 10 times more massive than our Sun feeding off their stellar companions could achieve such extraordinary luminosities, but the rapid and regular pulsations of this source are the fingerprints of neutron stars and clearly distinguish them from black holes.”
The discovery, detected by the European Space Agency (ESA’s) XMM-Newton telescope, could refine astronomers’ understanding of pulsars.
Norbert Schartel, ESA’s XMM-Newton project scientist, said:
“The discovery of this very unusual object, by far the most extreme ever discovered in terms of distance, luminosity and rate of increase of its rotation frequency, sets a new record for XMM-Newton, and is changing our ideas of how such objects really ‘work’.”
Earlier this month, scientists discovered the first ever white dwarf pulsar.
Despite being around the same size as Earth, its mass is some 200,000 times greater. It then orbits around a star (the red dwarf) at once every 3.6 hours.