Deadly Love in Space: ‘Spidery’ Pulsars Consume Their Mates [VIDEO]

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By Parismita Goswami | February 21, 2014 10:28 PM EST

Scientists, while studying the behaviour of two rare class of binary system containing speedily spinning neutron stars called pulsars, noticed that these pulsars consume their mates, similar to that of black widow spiders and their Australian cousins called redbacks, who are notorious for their tainted love, as they have a tendency to kill and devour their male partners.

NASA's Goddard Space Flig
Spinning 390 times a second, PSR J1311−3430 periodically swings its radio (green) and gamma-ray (magenta) beams past Earth in this artist's concept. The pulsar heats the facing side of its stellar partner to temperatures twice as hot as the sun's surface and slowly evaporates it.

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"The essential features of black widow and redback binaries are that they place a normal but very low-mass star in close proximity to a millisecond pulsar, which has disastrous consequences for the star," said Roger Romani, a member of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology. Black widow systems contain stars that are both physically smaller and of much lower mass than those found in redbacks.

Till now, scientists have found about 18 black widows and nine redbacks in the Milky Way and some additional numbers of each class have been discovered within the clusters of stars that orbit our galaxy.

PSR J1311-3430 (J1311 for short), one black widow system, discovered in 2012 is the tightest orbit of its class and contains one of the heaviest neutron stars known. On the contrary, its companion, which is about the mass of Jupiter and 60 percent that of its size, compete an orbital round every 93 minutes.

A class of pulsars with an astonishing speed of up to 43,000 rpm was discovered 32 years ago and, today, over 300 of these pulsars have been listed. It has been found that more than half of these pulsars have stellar partners, signifying that interaction with a normal star can revive a slower, older neutron star, according to astronomers.

"The high-energy emission and wind from the pulsar basically heats and blows off the normal star's material and, over millions to billions of years, can eat away the entire star. These systems can completely consume their companion stars, and that's how we think solitary millisecond pulsars form", said Alice Harding, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said in a statement.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope that monitored J1311 showed that the side of the star facing towards the pulsar is heated to over 21,000 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 12,000 C), or nearly twice as hot as the sun's surface. The cool red side exposes the true color of the pipsqueak star at a temperature of 5,000 F (2,700 C), which is half the sun's surface temperature or lower.

Click on the video below 

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(Photo: NASA's Goddard Space Flig / )
Spinning 390 times a second, PSR J1311−3430 periodically swings its radio (green) and gamma-ray (magenta) beams past Earth in this artist's concept. The pulsar heats the facing side of its stellar partner to temperatures twice as hot as the sun's surface and slowly evaporates it.
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