At an age of about 200 million years, this pulsar is the oldest and faintest isolated pulsar ever detected in X-rays but it's spinning only
slightly faster than one revolution per second!
Among isolated pulsars, it is over 10 times older than the previous record holder with an X-ray detection.
The pulsar, PSR J0108-1431 (J0108 for short) is slowing down as it ages and converting some of the energy that is being lost into X-rays.
The efficiency of this process is found to be higher than for any other known pulsar.
J0108 is located at a distance of 770 light years in the constellation Cetus, a long way from the plane of our galaxy, but it's still one of the nearest pulsars known.
A team of astronomers led by George Pavlov of Penn State University conducted observations of J0108 in X-rays with Chandra.
They found that it glows much brighter in X-rays than was expected for a pulsar of such advanced years.
"This pulsar is pumping out high-energy radiation much more efficiently than its younger cousins," said Pavlov.
"So, although it's clearly fading as it ages, it is still more than holding its own with the younger generations."
This artist's impression shows what the pulsar J0108 might look like if viewed up close. Radiation from particles spiraling around magnetic fields is
shown along with heated areas around the neutron star's magnetic poles. Both of these effects are expected to generate X-ray emission.(Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.)
Measuring the temperature and size of these heated regions can provide valuable insight into the extraordinary properties of the neutron star surface and
the process by which charged particles are accelerated by the pulsar.
The younger, bright pulsars commonly detected by radio and X-ray telescopes are not representative of the full population of objects, so observing objects
like J0108 contribute with a more complete range of behavior.
At its very advanced age, J0108 is close to the so-called "pulsar death line," where its pulsed radiation is expected to switch off and it will become much
harder, if not impossible, to observe.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple and an optical image from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in red, blue and white.
The Chandra source in the center of the image is the ancient pulsar PSR J0108-1431 (J0108 for short), located only 770 light years from us.
The elongated object immediately to its upper right is a background galaxy that is unrelated to the pulsar. Since J0108 is located a long way
from the plane of our galaxy, many distant galaxies are visible in the larger-scale optical image.Credits: Chandra/VLT
"We can now explore the properties of this pulsar in a regime where no other pulsar has been detected outside the radio range," said co-author Oleg
Kargaltsev of the University of Florida.
"To understand the properties of 'dying pulsars,' it is important to study their radiation in X-rays. Our finding that a very old pulsar can be
such an efficient X-ray emitter gives us hope to discover new nearby pulsars of this class via their X-ray emission."
At a velocity of about 440,000 miles per hour, close to a typical value for pulsars, the old J0108 is moving south from the plane of the Milky
Way galaxy, but because it is moving more slowly than the escape velocity of the Galaxy, it will eventually curve back towards the plane of the
Galaxy in the opposite direction.
"Suddenly this pulsar became the record holder for its ability to make X-rays," said Pavlov, "and our result became even more interesting without
us doing much extra work."
The detection of this motion has allowed Roberto Mignani of University College London, in collaboration with Pavlov and Kargaltsev, to possibly
detect J0108 in optical light, using estimates of where it should be found in an image taken in 2000.
Such a multi-wavelength study of old pulsars is critical for understanding the long-term evolution of neutron stars, such as how they cool with
time, and how their powerful magnetic fields evolve.
MessageToEagle.com via NASA, Chandra
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