Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Neutron Star Ejects Matter at Speed of Light

Compact jets that shoot matter into space in a continuous stream at near the speed of light have long been assumed to be a unique feature of black holes. But these odd features of the universe may be more common than once thought.

Astrophysicists using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope recently spotted one of these jets around a super-dense dead star, confirming for the first time that neutron stars as well as black holes can produce these fire-hose-like jets of matter.

As the smaller star travels around its dead partner, the neutron star's intense gravity picks up material leaving the smaller star’s atmosphere and creates a disk around itself. The disk of matter, or accretion disk, circles the neutron star similar to the way rings circle Saturn.