Mark your calendars for fireworks, Earthlings. And no, I’m not talking about the little peonies you’re shooting off the back deck tonight. Astronomers have wised up to a much more epic light show that’s going down 5,000 light years away. And in 2018, it’s coming to a telescope near you.
In early 2018, the pulsar known as J2032+4127 is going to swing around MT91 213, a binary companion star fifteen times the mass of our sun and 10,000 times brighter. When the two stellar bodies get close, the city-sized pulsar will plunge through a disk of gas and dust, triggering a Michael Bay-approved cosmic light show.
J2032 is the crushed core of a massive star that exploded long ago. Weighing almost twice as much as our sun and spinning seven times a second, the pulsar produces a stream of high energy gamma rays, which astronomers first detected in 2009 using Fermi’s Large Area Telescope.
Pulsars are relatively common on the cosmic landscape, but J2032 is rather special, being locked in a gravitational embrace with one of the largest and brightest stars in our galaxy. The pulsar swings around closest to its partner once ever 25 years, and the next such pass is going to be visible in 2018. The high-energy explosions that take place will help astronomers measure MT91 213’s gravity, magnetic field, and stellar wind.
Best of all, from 5,000 light years away, we’ll all be able to watch the astronomical fireworks, as telescopes around the world stream back everything from radio waves to high-energy gamma rays. To drum up public interest, NASA released a teaser trailer explaining exactly what we’re in store for. Okay, it’s maybe a little cheesy, but props to NASA for hitting a lot of major movie trailer tropes while explaining some seriously wonky science.
Personally, I love my fireworks with a healthy dose of astrophysics, so to this high-energy pulsar I say, welcome to Earth.
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Image via NASA