New Space Telescope Has Already Found a Gamma Ray Mystery

By Eliza Strickland | October 17, 2008 5:04 pm

pulsarThe Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope only settled into its orbit a few months ago, but it’s already producing results that are delighting astronomers. Yesterday, NASA announced that Fermi had found a strange pulsar (a fast-spinning neutron star) by detecting only the gamma rays it emits. This is a first, NASA explains. Although astronomers have catalogued nearly 1800 pulsars, this is the first pulsar that seems to emit only gamma-ray radiation. Most other pulsars have been found using radio telescopes, although some also beam energy in visible light and X-rays [New Scientist].

Neutron stars are the small and incredibly dense bodies formed when massive stars explode into supernovas; perhaps the oddest of neutron stars are pulsars, which send out jets of radiation from their magnetic poles that sweep across Earth’s line of sight as the star spins on its axis. The newfound pulsar, which sits 4,600 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus, rotates at about a million miles an hour, and its beam of gamma rays reaches Earth about three times a second [National Geographic News]. Pulsars are often compared to lighthouses for the way their beams flash across our telescopes (see NASA animation).

The findings, published in Science [subscription required], suggest that astronomers may have to revise their estimates of the number of neutron stars in the galaxy, as there may be many more pulsars which have been invisible to older radio telescopes. “This is the first pulsar discovered only through gamma-ray pulses. This is an exciting result because it means that a lot of pulsars are hidden,” says Fermi science team member Alice Harding…. “Fermi is doing exactly what we expected it to do: find all these pulsars in gamma-rays that we don’t see in the radio,” adds radio astronomer Michael Kramer.

Further studies will investigate the heaps of questions left in the wake of this discovery, including why this pulsar doesn’t appear to emit the typical radio waves. Researchers will also investigate whether mysterious bursts of gamma rays previously detected by other telescopes are a result of unseen pulsars. The Fermi telescope has the rest of its five-year mission to attempt to solve these conundrums.

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: Pulsar SMASH! has much more on this discovery
80beats: Brightest Gamma Ray Burst Ever Observed Was Aimed Straight at Earth
80beats: First Map of the “Gamma Ray Universe” Produced
80beats: Pulsars and Black Holes and Dark Matter, Oh My!

Image: NASA

  • Denitsa

    The only question is where are the black holes? If there are more neutron stars, that will once again demonstrate that our understanding of the death of massive stars is incomplete and some theories are mildly put-wrong! What did Ligo see in GRBs? Nothing. Why? We don’t know. How come? /short GRB are thought to be produced by a merger with very likely a black hole involved-a process that MUST produce gravity waves. Well, if it did, we didn’t detect them. And they are very well in the current range of LIGO/
    I think it’s high time we forget the funny ideologies and go for the real hard-core science.

  • Me

    Science is exploration of the unknown. Perhaps you can continue with what you believe to be important while others continue their work of what they believe to be important.

  • Ralph

    Pretty nice condescending response Me. I suppose you are insinuating by your trivial and obvious statement that “science is the exploration of the unknown” that it is something unknown to Denitsa, just because she has ideas she is not paid to have, institutionally speaking?
    How does a neutron star have a magnetic field if there are no charged particles within it? It is only neutrons, am I right? And how does something even compress gravitationally to such extremes when it seems obvious to me that given the additional mass of the positively charged nuclei in this “star” as compared with electrons, that the gravitational force would tend to create a radial charge separation and thus a concurrent radial electric potential energy that would tend to counterbalance the gravitational compressive force. At some critical density you would imagine every massive body should cease further compression, and I do not see how a force of gravity that is 39 orders of magnitude less effective than the electrical force (particle for particle) can force that critical density even to the supposed levels theorized for the center of any star, much less to that extremes required of neutron stars or black holes.
    Me, I would say that I have to agree with Denitsa that it is high time we forget these funny ideologies and get serious about our science again. But please, correct me if there are some obvious things that you (I suppose) scientists know that makes these arguments seem silly.
    Just a physics undergrad, but I’m planning to take up Electrical Engineering.

  • Me

    What I meant Ralph was that Science IS the exploration of the unknown. All unknowns are as viable as the next. No offense was intended toward Denitsa. Science is free to explore any avenues it may choose. What Denitsa or yourself may consider hard-core science may be trivial to another and vise versa. You brought up some interesting points that you may follow up on if you wish. However, just because you have exposed potential problems with a theory does not mean that the theory is not sound. It is the best representation of the current amount of data we have. As more information is collected perhaps the theory will change and satisfy your questions. But without deeper investigations into the unknown, any unknown, we may never find the answers we are searching for. Just remember that your physics undergrad was taught by professors who studied information discovered by “us scientists”…

  • Ralph

    Thank you for a more civilized response than my post warranted, I apologize for my anger there. I would like it if you could address my question, however, I certainly cannot see any physical arguments that contradict it, but if you could point me to those it would be greatly appreciated.
    What you state that just because there are problems with a theory does not mean it is wholly unsound, and while I agree with that entirely, it must be true that sometimes problems with a theory CAN constitute falsifying evidence. If it were otherwise I’m sure we would be charting the cosmos today with some variation of the geocentric ptolemaic system, and that, while we may be able to add enough “flesh on the bones” (epicycles) to make a mathematically correct model, it would be neither descriptive or predictive, and what would be the use of that?
    Dark matter? Dark energy? Black holes? Describing the universe with invented processes and entities to insure that standard theories have enough “flesh” to work mathematically doesn’t seem like science to me, but only mathematical bookkeeping.

    What is the mechanism that renders charge separation either impossible or trivial as an oppositional effect with respect to gravity (which is in fact driven by gravity) in hot, massive bodies?

  • Joel

    If we are dealing with a spill of gas in a complex of time then the will of gas is to dissipate. If the will of a pul is to be the sar then the sar is the cause of pass and digest.
    Thus the bill for this one is set on the grip of a mighty and powerful body of life called Casseopia or the bill of a father we could call Aetheopia.
    Of course that isn’t science but a mix of history with life for the constellation of life in a galaxy far off. One we call Andromeda.
    Thus this pulsar is a grip of a an ancient tug of war over life on life of people in the exosphere of life outside of the heliosphere of time.
    The bit of knowledge is grafted into the sea by one who fell to earth long ago. The one who is carried in the bit of life in the synchronous pulse or the bit by by pulse of the pulse in the ar or the ar ar of a pirate.

  • Ralph

    Is that scientology Joel? That’s pretty crazy man.
    I would add that there was additionally a hot, massive body which you neglect to mention, but that it was sucked into the exosphere of a pirate… from sagittarius, so it is understood why you missed this fact since the cardorian chartographers have made no such mention of these events. David Icke has the whole thing covered.

  • Salane

    What does it mean when something rotates a million miles and hour?


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar

Login to your Account

E-mail address:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »