Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Space Scoop: The Mystery of the Monster Pulsar

Organization:365 Days Of Astronomy

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Description: Space scoop, news for children

Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by — no one. We still need sponsors for many days in 2016, so please consider sponsoring a day or two. Just click on the “Donate” button on the lower left side of this webpage, or contact us at

This is 365 Days of Astronomy. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.

Today’s story is: The Mystery of the Monster Pulsar
One of the coolest characters from the Marvel Comics Universe is J.A.R.V.I.S.; Tony Stark’s, Iron Man’s, home computing system. J.A.R.V.I.S takes care of everything from adjusting Stark’s home heating systems to navigating the Iron Man armor.

Even though J.A.R.V.I.S. isn’t real, supercomputers are real, and they’re used to do all kinds of incredible things! Supercomputers have simulated the birth of our Universe, and even revealed how it may eventually end.

In September 2016 scientists used a supercomputer to solve a two-year old mystery: The Mystery of the Monster Pulsar.

Back in 2014, the NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) X-ray space telescope detected some unexpected ‘blinking’ signals coming from what we believed was a feeding black hole. Black holes eat anything that gets too close — including stars and planets!

While black holes are normally invisible, as they feed they pull in material so quickly that it becomes super-heated and begins to shine, similar to the way rubbing two sticks together can start a fire. Simple frictional heating.

The more a black hole eats, the brighter it becomes…to a certain point. Eventually a sort of “traffic jam” occurs as the in-falling material piles up. This limits the amount of material being swallowed.

Black holes have super-strong gravity, allowing them to overcome this traffic jam effect to keep growing brighter. The object detected in 2014 shone brighter than 10 million suns!

For a long time, it’s been believed that only these black hole heavyweights of the Universe were massive enough to bypass the traffic jam and grow into Ultra Luminous X-ray sources (called ULXs). But black holes don’t blink on & off, so what was this strange object?

This is where supercomputers come in.

Of course, astronomers aren’t able to travel to the ULX, which lies 12 million light years away. Instead, they simulated the odd, “blinking” ULX on the ATERUI supercomputer in Japan.

Despite everything we thought we knew, the simulation showed that it may actually be possible for a pulsar, a type of neutron star, to also bypass the cosmic “traffic jam”.

The matter falling into the pulsar is being funneled into the magnetic pole of the star, which isn’t located at the rotational pole, but off to one side This is a bit like our Earth’s Geomagnetic pole being on Canada’s Ellesmere Island, not the north pole.

As the matter from the companion star falls into the magnetic pole of the pulsar, it is gathered together into a column as it’s pulled onto the solid surface of the neutron star.

The gas forms a shock front near the star and the X-ray & visible light photons spill out the sides of the column into a disc of light. Since there is a north and a south pole there are 2 parallel discs of light streaming away from the pulsar, flashing brightly as the star spins.

Since the light pours out to the side of the column, the traffic jam is bypassed and the process isn’t forced to slow down.

It’s time we gave this monster pulsar it’s well deserved moment in the spotlight!

After all, it’s the brightest pulsar we’ve ever found.

Hey, Here’s A Cool Fact:
This pulsar is called M82 X-2, and is located in the starburst galaxy called M82, in the northern constellation Ursa Major, the big bear. The galaxy is also called “The Cigar Galaxy” but I like to think that it looks like it should be called “The Exploding Cigar Galaxy” instead.

There are 197 massive star forming clusters in M82’s core, each on average having 200,000 solar masses. Stars are being formed there 10 times faster than they are here in the Milky Way. That’s why we call it a “starburst” galaxy.

Stars are bustin’ out all over!

The star formation appears to be caused by M82’s interaction with its larger neighbor galaxy, M81. The tidal forces of this galactic dos-à-dos dance have caused all the starburst activity and lit the fuse of the “Exploding Cigar”…

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365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by Astrosphere New Media. Audio post-production by Richard Drumm. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at  This year we will celebrate more discoveries and stories from the universe. Join us and share your story. Until tomorrow! Goodbye!