Mathematicians from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom have developed a new method of measuring star mass which can be applied to stars in isolation.
Until now, star mass calculations have been based on the gravitational pull of nearby objects in space– such as moons and planets. Unlike the traditional gravity-based method, the new method developed by researchers in the United Kingdom does not rely on nearby objects. Instead, it relies on the principles of nuclear physics.
While the new technique is nothing short of a breakthrough, it’s only applicable to the rapidly rotating neutron stars known as pulsars — and only young pulsars at that. The reason for this has to do with the “glitches” exhibited by young pulsars.
Pulsars are believed to emit regular pulses of radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation. Their rotating beams of electromagnetic radiation, which are detectable via telescope, are renowned for the consistent rate at which they rotate. However, young pulsars occasionally exhibit glitches which are thought to be the result of rapidly spinning superfluid transferring its rotational energy from the inside of a star to its crust.
Dr. Nils Andersson of the University of Southampton, a professor of applied mathematics at the university, explained that if a pulsar was a bowl of soup and the bowl was spinning at one speed and the soup was spinning faster, the friction between the soup and the inside of the bowl “will cause the bowl to speed up.”
Imagine the pulsar as a bowl of soup, with the bowl spinning at one speed and the soup spinning faster. Friction between the inside of the bowl and its contents, the soup, will cause the bowl to speed up. The more soup there is, the faster the bowl will be made to rotate
Dr. Andersson and Dr. Wynn Ho of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southampton collaborated with Dr. Danai Antonopoulou of the University of Amsterdam and Dr. Cristobal Espinoza of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile to develop the new mathematical model for measuring the mass of glitching pulsars.
According to Andersson, their findings “provide an exciting new link between the study of distant astronomical objects and laboratory work in both high-energy and low-temperature physics.”
Our results provide an exciting new link between the study of distant astronomical objects and laboratory work in both high-energy and low-temperature physics. It is a great example of interdisciplinary science
Wynn Ho referred to the new “breakthrough” star weighing method as one “which has the potential to revolutionize the way” in which these types of calculations are made.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Science Advances.