In comparison, neutron stars seemed to make relatively puny jets, which only became bright enough to see when the neutron star was gobbling gas from their companion at a very high rate.”
Dr Deller says when the team looked at PSR J1023+0038 it was only consuming a trickle of material and should have been producing a very feeble jet. “But our observations suggest its jets are nearly as strong as you’d expect from a black hole,” he says.
Astronomer James Miller-Jones, from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), says neutron stars can be thought of as stellar corpses. “They’re formed when a massive star runs out of fuel and undergoes a supernova, and the central parts of the star collapse under their own gravity,” he says. “These things are typically about one and a half times the mass of the Sun and yet they’re only 10-15km across, so they’re incredibly dense.”
Dr Miller-Jones says PSR J1023+0038 is a “transitional” neutron star, spending years at a time powered mainly by the rotation of the neutron star but transitioning occasionally into an active gathering state, when it gets much brighter. “Two other transitional systems are now known and both of these have also been shown to exhibit powerful jets,” he says. “This is casting neutron stars in a new light and showing that in fact they can sometimes launch jets to rival those coming from black holes.”
The ASTRON and JIVE scientists involved in this research were Adam Deller, Javier Moldon, Jason Hessels, Anne Archibald, Zsolt Paragi, George Heald, and Nicolas Vilchez.