The NICER experiment, designed to measure neutron stars as never before, just released their first pulsar map, and it’s amazing.
After typical supernovae, remnant collapsed cores of matter are left behind.
These objects — neutron stars — are approximately 90% neutrons, surrounded by shells containing charged particles.
As they rapidly spin, they generate strong magnetic fields, accelerating particles and emitting electromagnetic pulses.
When a pulse intersects our line-of-sight, we detect it: this is why some neutron stars are pulsars.
They are denser than atomic nuclei but cannot be too massive, otherwise they collapse into black holes.
Even with our most powerful telescopes in all wavelengths of light, neutron stars only appear as points.
NASA’s NICER mission, installed aboard the ISS in 2017, sought to change all that.
The low-energy X-ray observatory measures timing signals down to 300 nanoseconds and at unprecedented sensitivities.
NICER enables measurements of neutron stars’ sizes, masses, cooling times, stabilities, and internal structures.
For one pulsar in particular, J0030+0451, they determined its mass (1.35 Suns) and diameter (25.7 km) explicitly.
They detected “hot spots” on the surface and constructed the first-ever neutron star map.
They concluded that pulsar magnetic fields are more complex than typical, naive two-pole models.
It’s one step closer to the ultimate goal: discovering which matter states exist in pulsar cores.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.