What is this “black widow” in our heaven?

Des chercheurs du Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, États-Unis) pensent avoir mis la main sur une « veuve noire » des plus étonnante. Un système formé d’un pulsar – ici pour illustration, le pulsar du Crabe – et de non pas une, mais deux étoiles compagnes. © Nasa, CXC, SAO, F. D. Seward, W. H. Tucker, R. A. Fesen

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If I call you a black widow, you are necessarily thinking of this spider with destructive habits. But know that the little beast is not the only one who deserves this nickname. Some “black widows” are also hidden in our sky. Astronomers also believe they have discovered a new, somewhat surprising behavior.

The Black Widowfor biologists, it is a spider a little special. Because it can release one poison mortal for men, first. But also because black widows have a habit of devouring males, smaller than them, aftercoupling. And it’s this funny feature that deserves their nickname for some binary systems ofstars. Systems consisting of a pulsar – the ruins of a huge star that have collapsed, a neutron star in a very fast spin on himself – that, for gravity, gradually devours a smaller companion star. Winning extra duration of life.

From his astronomers Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA) just noticed what looks new to them “black widows”. At 3,000 light years of our Earth approximately. An amazing system in more ways than one. Firstly because what will be called ZTF J1406 + 1222 was detected in visible light. It is signaled to the researchers by the characteristic and spectacular flashes of the companion star of the pulsar. Classically, it is rather the gamma and X-rays emitted by the pulsar that alert astronomers.

Another peculiarity of ZTF J1406 + 1222 revealed by a shine which varies by a factor of 13: sa orbital period extremely short. The shortest ever observed elsewhere. With pulsar and a star that rotate around each other in just … 62 minutes!

ONE ” Black Widow “ or maybe something else

And the ZTF J1406 + 1222 does not stop there. that’s funny ” Black Widow “ seems to be holding a third star under its wings. Farther away. Completing its cycle in 10,000 years. A configuration that raises questions for astronomers.

To explain it, they consider that, as is the case with most “black widows” known -about two dozen so far- this triple system was formed into a spherical swarm. Long before ours Sun begins to shine. It drifts towards its center Galaxythe latter could have been disturbed by the gravity exerted by it oversized black hole who lives there. Annoyed enough to burst leaving the ZTF J1406 + 1222 intact.

But astronomers at MIT warn us. While we wait for new comments, it remains wiser to continue to look at this triple system as a candidate ” Black Widow “. Besides, he has not (yet) revealed anyemissions gamma or x-rays characteristics of the presence of a pulsar. The only thing researchers are sure of is that they have detected a star with one side much warmer than the other – one that potentially receives steady radiation from the pulsar – and orbiting at just over one hour. So, if everything shows that he is indeed the companion of a pulsar and a ” Black Widow “it could be something … completely new!

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