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Web Extra: Black widow star destroys its mate

In a rare and destructive binary system, a rapidly spinning neutron star known as a pulsar is tightly paired with a low-mass normal star, upon which the pulsar feeds.
RELATED TOPICS: BINARY STARS
In a rare and destructive binary system, a rapidly spinning neutron star known as a pulsar is tightly paired with a low-mass normal star, upon which the pulsar feeds.
Thorne-Żytkow objects (TZOs) represent only one of many possible endings for a binary star system. Instead of an eventual merger that largely hides the binary nature of the TZO from view, systems where the two stars have an extreme difference in mass can result in something more visually dramatic, such as a star that, like its spider namesake, kills and consumes its mate.

Such a black widow binary consists of a puny dwarf star measured in Jupiter, rather than solar, masses, and the massive yet tiny core of a dead sun called a neutron star. When astronomers see these dense former stars spinning on the order of a thousand times per second, they call them pulsars. In the case of one particular system discussed in the video below, the pulsar’s mate circles the more massive star every 93 minutes and is blasted with radiation on its near side.

Astronomers have found only a few dozen examples of these star systems, with larger, more massive versions known as “redbacks,” after the black widow spider’s larger Australian relative. Tracking them down takes multiple observations and careful sleuthing. Watch the video to find out how astronomers tracked down this black widow binary system.
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
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