Black widows are not only dreaded spiders, but also millisecond pulsars, extremely fast neutron stars that, like their namesakes, eat a smaller or, more precisely, lighter partner in a tight binary.
As a result, the pulsars in question do not have as short a life as usual. The mass of the eaten companion pours new blood into their veins. Black widow pulsars are rare. We found about two dozen of them in the Milky Way.
Kevin Burgde of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his colleagues have discovered another space “black widow.” This time it is a relatively mysterious and at the same time record-breaking affair.
ZTF J1406 + 1222
The system, which was designated ZTF J1406 + 1222, is about 3,000 light-years from Earth. The black widow and her partner circulate in this system for a record short time, only 62 minutes.
Another unique feature of the newly discovered black widow is that it is probably not a binary star but a triple star. Another star orbits her black widow and her partner. But it is much further and will circulate the mentioned pair in about 10,000 years. The unusual design of the system stopped the scientist and led them to question how such a system could actually have come into being.
Burgde and his team suggested a possible scenario, which they themselves describe as quite complicated. According to this scenario, a “triple” black widow formed about the same as most black widows, in a dense stellar cluster of globular clusters. According to researchers, this cluster then came close to the center of the Milky Way, where it was torn apart by the massive gravity of a supermassive black hole.
But the special triple black water system ZTF J1406 + 1222 remained together. If this idea is correct, then this system is said to travel the Milky Way longer than our Sun exists.
Researchers have taken a new approach to discovering this triple system. Most black widow pulsars are discovered by observing X-rays and gamma rays of the pulsar. Burgde’s team was the first to use observations in the visible region of the spectrum, especially the “blinking” of a black widow’s companion.
Pulsar significantly warms the opposite side of the companion, which is many times warmer than the opposite side. This leads to dramatic changes in the brightness of this object as it moves in the ZTF J1406 + 1222 system.