IIT Kanpur, Ashoka University uncover a space secret. And it's related to neutron star structure

The study paves the way for a deeper understanding of these fascinating celestial objects and the fundamental laws governing the universe
Prof Pankaj Jain
Prof Pankaj Jain(Pic: IIT Kanpur)

A team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) Pune, and Ashoka University have made a significant breakthrough using data from India's first astronomical observatory, AstroSat, informed a press release from the institute.

Their research, published in Astrophysical Journal, reveals new insights into the internal structure of neutron stars, some of the densest objects in the universe.

Neutron stars are formed from the collapsed cores of massive stars and pack more than the Sun's mass into a sphere just 10 kilometers across. This extreme density creates a powerful gravitational field and leads to a complex, poorly understood, equation of state, the relationship between pressure and density within the star.

The research team utilised data from AstroSat's LAXPC instrument, a domestically developed marvel of Indian engineering, to study X-rays emitted by the binary star system 4U 1728-34. This system comprises a neutron star accreting matter from a companion star.

The authors analysed the X-ray data from the binary star system 4U 1728-34 and found several cases in which QPO triplets were observed.

They discovered that the frequencies of these QPO triplets do not remain fixed; rather, they evolve continuously with time, maintaining a specific relationship with each other. Using this relationship, they found that the observed QPOs are best interpreted in terms of the three oscillations predicted by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (GTR), that is, the orbital motion, the precession of the perihelion, and the Lense-Thirring precession.

Furthermore, they found that the observed relationship has a sensitive dependence on the mass, moment of inertia, and the equation of state of the neutron star. Hence, it can be used to probe these parameters in greater detail, which has not been possible in the past.

Pankaj Jain, Head of the SPASE Department at IIT Kanpur, commented on the findings saying, "This discovery advances our understanding of neutron stars and also opens new avenues for exploring the fundamental principles of physics in extreme environments. The insights gained from this study will have a lasting impact on astrophysics and related fields."

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