‘Black Widow’ Pulsar Caught Singing As It Chews On A Brown Dwarf Star

Jurik PeterShutterstock

Remember the “black widow” pulsar that astronomers mapped for the very first time this May? Turns out this superdense neutron star, named after the infamous spider that feeds on its mate, is humming a tune while it devours its stellar companion. And, what’s more, you can actually listen to its eerie song, notes Space.

As The Inquisitr previously reported, the “black widow” pulsar was discovered 30 years ago and sits 6,500 light-years away from Earth. Dubbed PSR B1957+20, the pulsar is accompanied by a brown dwarf star, located a mere 1.2 million miles (two million kilometers) from the superdense neutron star.

Here’s where things take somewhat of a cannibalistic turn. Living in such close quarters is bound to cause friction, and that’s exactly what goes on within this distant binary star system. The pulsar continuously pummels the brown dwarf with intense radiation, stripping it of gas, which it then greedily consumes.

This creates a comet-like tail of material flowing from the brown dwarf toward the pulsar and which acts as a magnifying lens, making the pulsar appear more clearly visible. In fact, this is how astronomers detected PSR B1957+20 in the first place, by picking up its radiation signals magnified through its companion’s tail of gas.

The pulsar’s radiation emissions come from two cones of very intense radio waves. Each time they pass through the brown dwarf’s tail, these beams of radiation become significantly brighter, uncovered a recent study.

Published in the journal Nature, the study revealed that the pulsar’s radiation beams increase in brightness 40 times as they travel through the gas syphoned from brown dwarf.

At the same time, the pulsar spins at incredibly fast speeds, rotating at a frequency of 622.1 Hz. With the help of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the team — led by Robert Main of the University of Toronto in Canada — managed to record the pulsar’s radio emissions, converting them into sound.

The result is a ghostly song, which you can listen to in the video below.

According to an animation of the pulsar’s song, given below, the tune is mostly made up of E-flat notes (Eb), interrupted by intermittent “flickers” of sound produced when the radio emissions pass through the brown dwarf’s tail and get magnified.

“The percussive instruments are triggered by these magnification events, and the pitched sounds are created by shifting the pulsar’s typical signal to different notes by speeding up or slowing down time,” explain the animation creators.

According to Matt Russo, a researcher at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto, this otherworldly tune seems to incorporate not only the “voice” of the pulsar, but that of its victim as well.

“The series of magnifications sound a little like Morse code, like the brown dwarf is trying to [signal] ‘SOS,'” said Russo, who worked with Main to convert the pulsar’s radio signals into song.