Monday, September 17, 2007

NASA Astronomers Find Bizarre Planet-Mass Object Orbiting Neutron Star

In this artist depiction of the SWIFT J1756.9-2508 system, the foreground object is the planet-mass object. The pulsar, located at the upper right, is tidally distorting the companion into a teardrop-shaped object, and ripping gas from it. This material flows in a stream toward the pulsar and forms a disk around it. Eventually, enough gas builds up in the disk to produce an outburst bright enough to make the system visible from Earth. Credit: Aurore Simonnet/Sonoma State University

Using NASA's Swift and Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellites, astronomers have discovered one of the most bizarre planet-mass objects ever found.The object's minimum mass is only about 7 times the mass of Jupiter. But instead of orbiting a normal star, this low-mass body orbits a rapidly spinning pulsar. It orbits the pulsar every 54.7 minutes at an average distance of only about 230,000 miles (slightly less than the Earth-Moon distance).

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