When we released Chandra’s image of the pulsar known as PSR B1509-58 (or, B1509, for short), it received a lot of attention. It's a fascinating object. The pulsar at the center of the image is a rapidly spinning dense star that is spewing out energetic particles into beautiful structures spanning trillions of miles that glow in X-ray light. And, it looks like a giant hand. This fact helped trigger a whole host of other comments about this object found some 17,000 light years from Earth.
This month, scientists announced that they've been studying B1509 for reasons that have nothing to do with its hand-shaped appearance. Rather, they are trying to figure out how such a tiny object (the 12-mile-wide pulsar) can be so powerful. Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico put out a press release that talks about this fascinating work.
In short, neutron stars like the one found in B1509 give scientists an opportunity to study forces in nature so extreme that they are impossible to recreate here on Earth.
This is an exciting and important example of how science in space can help research here on the ground, and vice versa. That's just the hand we've been dealt in our Universe (ba-da-dum).
Update (12/16/13): Andrew Steiner, an author on the Nature paper from the University of Washington, recently sent us a note to clarify this result and the connection to B1509:
In fact the nature paper is about accreting neutron stars, the photograph in the LANL press release is an X-ray pulsar with no companion and no evidence of accretion. Thus the Nature article,has nothing to do with studying 1509 per se, as your blog post claims. An object which periodically undergoes Type I X-ray bursts or X-ray superbursts, such as KS 1731, might be more appropriate.
-Megan Watzke, CXC
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