Picture a flea on Pluto's surface as seen through a telescope. This gives you some idea of the feat pulled off by astronomers, who managed to distinguish between spots of light on a 20-kilometre (about 12.5 mile) wide pulsar 6,500 light years away.
The result is mind-blowing on its own, but the physical processes behind the observation could help add much needed detail to one of the biggest mysteries in astronomy.
Canadian astronomers took advantage of a unique characteristic that magnified the spectrum of a pulsar's beams just enough to allow them to differentiate their positions.
To understand this phenomenon, it helps knowing more about a far distant marriage made in hell. The pulsar PSR B1957+20 is a monster. Discovered thirty years ago, if it isn't the most massive object of its kind, it's up there with the record heavyweights.
A neutron star packed into a space no bigger than a large town, this beast spins several hundred times per second as it moves quickly around another, colder star in a roughly nine-hour orbit.
Like all pulsing stars of this nature, it flickers thanks to intense magnetic fields channelling electromagnetic radiation into two cones of incredibly intense radio waves.
If that's not metal enough for you, this beast of a star is slowly eating away at its companion.
For this reason PSR B1957+20 earned the nickname black widow – a pulsar now famous as the first in a class of neutron stars that chew away at a partner star with their radiation.
The distance between the pulsar and the larger brown dwarf is a few times that of Earth to the Moon – just close enough to allow an intense beam of pulsar radiation to bake its companion to temperatures matching those of our own Sun's heat.
The result is a cloud of plasma rising from the brown dwarf's surface into space, creating a diffuse shell of gas.
Much as starlight twinkles in our atmosphere, the light from the black widow pulsar...(more at)https://www.sciencealert.com/black-widow-pulsar-plasma-lens-evidence-fast-radio-bursts
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