Rare black widow binary system discovered

(ORDO NEWS) — Flare activity from a nearby star has drawn astronomers’ attention to a new, mysterious system located about 3,000 light-years from Earth.

This unusual system may belong to the class of “black widows” – in which a rapidly spinning neutron star, or pulsar, orbits a smaller companion star and slowly consumes it – just as the female spider, which gives this class of star systems its name, absorbs the male after mating.

Astronomers know about two dozen black widow systems within the Milky Way. Designated ZTF J1406+1222, this newest candidate system has the shortest orbital period ever recorded for such a system, with a pulsar and companion star sharing a common orbit with a period of 62 minutes.

This system is unique because it includes what could be another, distant companion star that orbits the stellar pair with a period of about 10,000 years.

The origin of this triple system, probably belonging to the class of “black widows”, has raised a number of questions among scientists.

Based on observations, the authors proposed a version according to which this triple system, like many other binary systems belonging to the black widow class, was formed inside a dense globular cluster of stars.

This particular cluster could have drifted toward the center of the Milky Way, where the gravity of the central supermassive black hole was able to tear the cluster apart, but the triple system was intact.

“This is a complex scenario for the formation of an unusual system,” said the lead author of the new study, Kevin Burge (Kevin Burdge) from the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. “The system has probably been drifting through the Milky Way longer than our Sun has existed.”

Burge and his team discovered the ZTF J1406+1222 system in an unusual way – in the optical range – while mostly black widow class systems are detected by higher energy types of radiation, such as x-rays and gamma rays.


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