A team of determined high school students who doggedly searched for something new by carefully analyzing data from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) stumbled upon a never-before-seen pulsar with the widest orbit of any around a neutron star and is part of only a handful of double neutron star systems.


According to lead author Joe Swiggum from West Virginia University, the pulsars are extreme objects and the discovery by the students is amazing since they have been able to observe one of the objects in a really unique set of circumstances.

Binary systems among known pulsars are few and account for 10% of the known pulsars. A majority of pulsars orbit ancient white dwarf companion stars. It is a rarity to find pulsars orbiting neutron stars or main sequence stars like our Sun. The uniqueness of this circumstance can be blamed on the process by which pulsars and neutron stars are formed.

The pulsar was discovered by Cecilia McGough, a student at Strasburg High School in Virginia at the time, and De’Shang Ray, a student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland in 2012 and the pulsar received the official designation PSR J1930-1852.

Astronomers have now declared that that this new pulsar is a part of a binary system and this conclusion has been based upon the difference in the spin frequency between the original detection and the follow up observation.

Swiggum was surprised by the enormity of the orbit which was twice as large as any known binary neutron star system. The pulsar’s readings gave the scientists clues about the formation of such systems. It also gave the astronomers a clearer picture about the possibilities in binary evolution.

Joe Swiggum said, “Its orbit is more than twice as large as that of any previously known double neutron star system. The pulsar’s parameters give us valuable clues about how a system like this could have formed. Discoveries of outlier systems like J1930-1852 give us a clearer picture of the full range of possibilities in binary evolution.”

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