September 05, 2011

Swinburne University: A planet made of diamond

Date posted: 26 Aug 2011
A planet made of diamond
A once-massive star that’s been transformed into a small planet made of diamond: that’s what astronomers think they’ve found in our Milky Way.
The discovery, reported today in Science, was made by an international research team led by Professor Matthew Bailes, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne and the ‘Dynamic Universe’ theme leader in a new wide-field astronomy initiative, the ARC Centre of
Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).
The researchers, from Australia, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA, first detected an unusual star called a pulsar using the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope and followed up their discovery with the Lovell radio telescope in the UK and one of the Keck telescopes in Hawaii.
Pulsars are small spinning stars about 20 km in diameter—the size of a small city—that emit a beam of radio waves. As the star spins and the radio beam sweeps repeatedly over Earth, radio telescopes detect a regular pattern of radio pulses.
For the newly discovered pulsar, known as PSR J1719-1438, the astronomers noticed that the arrival times of the pulses were systematically modulated. They concluded that this was due to the gravitational pull of a small companion planet, orbiting the pulsar in a binary system.
The pulsar and its planet are part of the Milky Way’s plane of stars and lie 4,000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (the Snake). The system is about an eighth of the way towards the Galactic Centre from the Earth.

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