Scientists have discovered a puzzling spinning star that is spontaneously switching between two very different personalities, flipping between emitting strong X-rays and emitting intense radio waves.
While radio frequencies are known to vary as the star changes personalities, the newfound star is the first time example of variability in X-rays as well. The star, called a pulsar because it appears to pulse, has astronomers perplexed.
“When we look now to what is so far published in papers, nothing at this moment can explain what is happening,” said the study‘s lead author, Wim Hermsen of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research and the University of Amsterdam.
Hermsen and his multinational researchteamsuspect that changes in the spinning star’s magnetosphere, or magnetic environment, are behind the switches. Those changes, however, is poorly understood.
“The people creating models will have to rethink what we are discovering here,” Hermsen added.
Perplexing pulsar mystery
The newfound pulsar is officially known as PSR B0943+10. The 5 million-year-old spinning star whips through a rotation every 1.1 seconds — which is considered pretty slow for a star of its type, researchers said.
PSR B0943+10’s radio pulses can change as quickly as once a second. The pulsar — about 3,000 light-years from Earth — also emits a weak X-ray signal as charged particles radiate along magnetic lines and bombard the magnetic poles.
Hermsen’s team was interested in knowing whether the X-rays — like the radio pulses — varied between the two modes. They examined the pulsar using a European Space Agency X-ray space telescope, XMM-Newton, and combined those observati