Astronomers have discovered what they believe is the brightest and youngest ever spinning star, suggesting that the extremely luminous versions of these super-dense objects may be far more common than thought.
The fast-spinning star, or a millisecond pulsar called J1823-3021A, is located inside a packed conglomeration of stars called a globular cluster about 27,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagitarrius.
The pulsar emits incredibly intense high-energy gamma rays, which the researchers detected and studied using NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope.
Their analysis suggested that the pulsar is 25 million years old -- just a baby, as millisecond pulsars tend to be a billion years old or so, LiveScience reported.
The pulsar's extreme brightness and youthness challenge the existing ideas about how super-bright millisecond pulsars form and how widespread they may be, the researchers said.
"These anomalously energetic millisecond pulsars must be forming at a rate similar to the previously known, more normal millisecond pulsars -- at least in globular clusters, but possibly in the whole universe as well," lead researcher Paulo Freire, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, said.
"In a sense, this pulsar would be the proverbial tip of a hidden new iceberg."
Pulsars form when giant stars die in supernova explosions and their remnants collapse into compact objects made only of the particles called neutrons.
When a mass as great as Sun's is packed into a space, the conserved angular momentum causes the resulting neutron star to spin very rapidly and to emit a ray of high-energy light that sweeps around like a lighthouse beam.