NASA’s NICER Reveals 1st-ever Pulsar Surface Map

NASA’s NICER Reveals 1st-ever Pulsar Surface Map

[Music throughout]This is J0030, a type of dead star called a pulsar, located about 1,100 light-years away in the constellation Pisces. Observing J0030 in X-rays, astronomers have now made the most precise and reliable measurements of any pulsar’s size. And they’ve discovered that J0030’s appearance differs dramatically from textbook depictions. NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, is a telescope on the International Space Station. NICER makes extremely detailed X-ray measurements of neutron stars, and its data provided this unprecedented glimpse of J0030. A neutron star is the crushed core of a massive star that exploded in a supernova. Pulsars, like J0030, are rapidly spinning neutron stars that sweep beams of energy across our line of sight, much like a lighthouse. A pulsar is so dense that its gravity bends the fabric of space-time around it. NICER’s precise X-ray measurements allow scientists to take advantage of this effect to see light from the far side of the pulsar. This is a pulsar-sized object about 16 miles across but with much less mass. We only see light from the side of the object nearest to Earth. But as its mass increases, the object warps space-time and acts like a lens to show us light from the far side. This has the strange effect of making a pulsar look bigger than it really is. The more mass an object of a given size contains, the more it distorts space-time and the more we see of its far side. Textbooks show pulsars with two hot spots on the surface, directly opposite each other at the magnetic poles. As the pulsar spins, the spots come in and out of view, creating regular changes in its X-ray brightness. If the pulsar’s mass is low, the spots disappear when they rotate to the far side. But if the mass is high enough, the hot spots may never completely disappear. Using NICER data, two teams of scientists examined different models for the shapes, and even the number, of hot spots on J0030. Both arrived at the same conclusion — the pulsar is around 16 miles across and about 1.4 times the Sun’s mass. This represents the most precise measurement yet of a pulsar’s size, with an uncertainty of less than 10%. The spots themselves don’t match the textbook image, though. From Earth, we look down onto J0030’s northern hemisphere. Both teams say there are no spots there at all. Contrary to the simple magnetic dipole model, all the spots appear in the southern hemisphere and are not necessarily in shapes we might expect. One team, led by researchers at the University of Amsterdam, suggests J0030 has one small circular spot and another long, crescent-shaped one. The other team, led by researchers at the Universities of Maryland and Illinois, finds two oval hot spots. Their sizes, shapes and locations closely match those derived from the other model. However, the Maryland-led team also finds a third, cooler spot located slightly askew of the pulsar’s south rotational pole, just at the edge of our view of the pulsar. Scientists are still trying to determine why J0030’s spots take on these shapes and arrangements, but for now it’s clear that pulsar magnetic fields are more complex than originally assumed. NICER’s measurements of J0030 have opened a new chapter in our understanding of neutron stars. As it continues to study other pulsars, we’ll learn even more about the common characteristics — and individual quirks — of these incredible objects. [Pulsar grid animations by Sharon Morsink, University of Alberta. Pulsar magnetosphere animation by Alice Harding, Constantinos Kalapotharakos, and Zorawar Wadiasingh, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center] [Pulsar grid animations by Sharon Morsink, University of Alberta. Pulsar magnetosphere animation by Alice Harding, Constantinos Kalapotharakos, and Zorawar Wadiasingh, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center] [Explore: solar system & beyond] [NASA]


  1. I love Goddard's social media outreach. This is excellently presented and interesting news. Everyone else: see, this is how science works (ideally). Have theories, observation shows theory out of concordance with reality, rework theories….the cycle continues and our species bootstraps our collective knowledge.

  2. Look forward to hearing about the Halbach effect on this star. Monopole & collapsed curve of the hot spots remind me & my wife of Halbach effect.

  3. The reason for the weird shapes and locations of the spots has to do with how the crust of the star exploded, during the explosion one side always takes the hit do the the intense gravity falling in back on itself, to put it simply. Some neutron stars survive but have scars, and others shoot off into infinity, while others either fully explode or turn into brown dwarfs.

  4. nice so they are object with their own gravitational lense, thats awesome!
    no wonder they are pretty much concidered "failed" black holes!

  5. Ky planet i mbulon tramet e zvarranikve,që i marrin prej njerzve budallenjë,ai planet i cili merr tramet e tij vuan për shum shekuj

  6. its doesn't bend time and or space, which by the way under the definition of space with out time there is none which its self is loony , a rehears time space is not a parallax no massive deviations of light towards the event, there is in its magnetic field or is dark matter doing that as well this is what you get with a education system that is money and political orientated ; a lot of Chinese and Indian spy's and the children of rich parents pushing those who can into the McDonald service industry

  7. One doesn't need to mount a telescope on a space station. I imagine this was done to save the costs of making, launching, and operating an entire satellite. Since the platform is up there, you don't need a separate spacecraft bus, and all the development and testing costs, much less how much it costs to launch it. Just send the telescope module up with one of the resupply ships, mount it, and start taking data.

  8. I imagine the discrepancy between the two researcher's models has to do with calculating the gravitational lens-effect? They should both be receiving the same data.

  9. How far out does the bend of spacetime occur from the object? Is the same effect apparent on larger but less mass heavy stellar objects?

  10. I liked how they modeled and simulate the surface(also with the actual data), its really amazing to notice the light getting warped around due to gravity.

  11. I completely appreciate the astounding scientific ramifications, Yes whenever I hear about mass bending light and space time, the inner 13 year old in me still wants to make your-mama jokes.

  12. That's beautiful, we can observe space time bending due to high mass. Same thing happen with black hole but black hole are dark so can't truly make complete picture of what's going on.. neutron stars are hear to rescue… 😊

  13. I'm no astro phsymacist, but could the lensing effect from mass distorting spacetime have been miscalculated here? Could the spots actually be near the poles, and it's just appearing like they're confined to one polar region? When this particular object rotates, do we see the spots in a textbook fashion from Earth?

  14. Is this the best fraud they can manage with $ aday cmon NASA your gonna have to lift your GAME, everything you have claimed to have done to date has been debunked, American people could use that money for something REAL

  15. No, it's not. This would assume space is a real place. Any demonstrations of gas maintaining pressure WITHOUT the necessary antecedent of a container? Until NASA can demonstrate this, space is absolutely not real. Just another "artist rendering" pushed as a photo 🤣

  16. With more mass doubles the surface resistance angainst whatever amount of gravity the star has. So this space time bending you call is just the result of light traveling through the high gravitational pressure from the stars size.

  17. Lmfao!!!!! That map is missing areas! Dont believe everything they tell you. Question EVERYTHING! Specially about space and our ventures into it.

  18. Thanks so much to everyone at NASA Goddard for making these highly-educational research update videos, keep up the fantastic work! 🙂

  19. Thanks for the explanation on the pulsar's gravity warping its appearance. When I first saw the animation, it looked really weird to me and I thought it was just an artistic thing, but now I now that is how it would actually appear if I could see it with my own eyes. I learned something today. Thanks!

  20. X-ray’s of lower magnitude funneled by magnetic fields to the pole ware it collects to have stronger signature. 🤔

  21. Now, armed with this new information and $2.99 I can go to Starbucks and buy a cup of coffee. There are people starving and homeless here on earth but NASA is solving problems every day that make no difference to humanity.

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