Scientists spot 1st gamma-ray eclipses from strange ‘spider’ star systems


Astronomers have detected the first gamma-ray eclipses from a “spider” star system, in which a superdense rapidly rotating neutron star called a pulsar is feeding on a stellar companion. These never-seen before gamma-ray eclipses are caused by the low-mass companion star of the pulsar moving in front of it and very briefly blocking high-energy photons.

An international team of scientists has found seven spider systems undergoing such gamma-ray eclipses, while scouring more than 10 years of data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. In one case, the finds helped the scientists to discover how a spider system is tilted in relation to Earth, and to determine the mass of the pulsars in such systems. In the future, the research could help scientists define what mass marks the dividing line between neutron stars and black holes.

“One of the most important goals for studying spiders is to try to measure the masses of the pulsars,” Colin Clark, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany and lead of the research team, said in a statement (opens in new tab).


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