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Gamma-ray binary, illustration

Gamma-ray binary, illustration

C042/6299

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Credit

NASA / GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NASA / GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption

Gamma-ray binary. Illustration showing a binary system consisting of a rapidly spinning neutron star (a pulsar) named PSR J1023 (left) and a star (right) containing about one-fifth the mass of the Sun, orbiting each other closely. The system, known as AY Sextantis, is located about 4,400 light-years away in the constellation Sextans. Observations have shown this pulsar's radio beacon vanishes periodically while at the same time the system brightens fivefold in gamma rays. It is thought this behaviour is a result of a stream of material from the Sun-like star periodically forming an accretion disc around the pulsar. Radio signals are obscured and x-rays emitted, and polar jets (top and bottom) form from the accretion disk, generating gamma-ray bursts. The stars complete an orbit in only 4.8 hours, which places them so close together that the pulsar will gradually evaporate its companion.

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