Professor Matthew Bailes of Melbourne, Australia's Swinburne University of Technology and his team of international astronomers have discovered a planet made of diamond in our Milky Way galaxy.
With a 64-meter radio telescope situated in Parkes, Australia, the team of scientists from Australia, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, discovered the planet as it orbits a pulsar. A pulsar is described as a small spinning star that emits a beam of radio waves, which are then detected by Earth's radio telescopes as radio pulses. The pulsar and the planet were located 4,000 light years away in the Serpens constellation, which is part of the Milky Way's stars. The astronomers supported this discovery with further observations with the Lovell radio telescope in the United Kingdom and Keck telescopes in Hawaii.
From the radio pulses, the scientists were able to determine several characteristics of the planet. For one, the planet completes its orbit around the pulsar in two hours and ten minutes. Also, the distance between the planet and pulsar is 600,000 km. Data also show that the planet is small, about 60,000 km in diameter or around five times the diameter of the Earth. In spite of this, the planet is said to have more mass than Jupiter.
"The team thinks that the planet is the tiny core that remained of a once-massive star after narrowly missing destruction by its matter being siphoned off toward the pulsar," reports Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn, Germany. The pulsar was discovered through 200,000 gigabytes of coded data in the computers at the Swinburne University of Technology, at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, and at the INAF Cagliari Astronomical Observatory, Italy.
The newly discovered pulsar, named PSR J1719-1438, is considered a millisecond pulsar, or a very fast spinning pulsar. It rotates more than 10,000 times per minute. The pulsar is 20 km in diameter and has a mass that is 1.4 times that of the Sun.
A EurekAlert report, dated August 25, 2011, states that astronomers believe that in its star form, the companion transforms an old and dead pulsar into a millisecond pulsar. This is done through the transfer of matter and high speed spinning. The outcome is a fast-spinning millisecond pulsar with a shrunken companion. This is more commonly known as a white dwarf.
"But pulsar J1719-1438 and its companion are so close together that the companion could only be a stripped-down white dwarf, one that has lost its outer layers and more than 99.9 percent of its original mass. This remnant is likely to be largely carbon and oxygen; stars of lighter elements like hydrogen and helium just won't fit. The density means that this material is certain to be crystalline: that is, a large part of the star may be similar to a diamond," states the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy report, published in the "Astronomy" magazine.
"The ultimate fate of the binary is determined by the mass and orbital period of the donor star at the time of mass transfer. The rarity of millisecond pulsars with planet-mass companions means that producing such exotic planets is the exception rather than the rule, and requires special circumstances," said Benjamin Stappers from the University of Manchester.
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