UWS Professor and PhD student shine on the international astronomy stage


A University of Western Sydney Professor and PhD student are part of a multinational collaboration which has made an extraordinary observation in the field of astronomy.

Associate Professor Miroslav Filipovic from the UWS School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, and current UWS PhD student Graeme Wong have made contributions to the paper 'Swinging between rotation and accretion power in a binary millisecond pulsar', published in this week's highly prestigious science journal, Nature.

Associate Professor Filipovic and Graeme contributed to the collection of data, which shows observations of a neutron star binary system switching between activity dominated by rotation, and activity dominated by mass gain. The lead author of the paper, Dr Alessandro Papitto from the Institute of Space Sciences, Barcelona, Spain, emphasises that these findings provide evidence for the existence of an unstable intermediate evolutionary phase where such binary systems can swing between the two states.

"The data we collected which contributed to this paper is very significant for our field. Previously this intermediate evolutionary phase was only a theory. But now, the theory has been experimentally proven," says Associate Professor Filipovic.

"It is an extraordinary achievement for any scientist to be published in Nature. But to have a student published? That is exceptional."

Much like humans, stars too proceed through various developmental stages; from birth, through maturity to death. Graeme collected data at the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) radio telescope located in Narrabri, which captures a star's transition from radio pulsar to neutron, and then, temporarily back again. This is similar to how a child develops from crawling to walking but may occasionally stumble and revert back to crawling – thus 'swinging' between the two states.

"Being part of the data collection and analyse which has now lead to a publication of this quality is incredibly exciting," says Graeme.

"It has been a very unique experience but also a good learning opportunity as this work is slightly different to the research I am currently doing for my PhD."

The data collected at ATCA shows the detection of millisecond X-ray pulsations from a neutron star previously seen as a rotation-powered radio pulsar and report that shortly after a month-long X-ray outburst, radio pulses were again detected. This work demonstrates the evolutionary link between accretion- and rotation-powered millisecond pulsars, and how some systems can swing between the two states.

Graeme completed a Bachelor of Information Technology (Honours) at UWS and is currently completing his PhD titled "Physics and Chemistry of Molecular Gas in the Milky Way Galaxy" with the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics.


27 September 2013

Photos: European Space Agency (ESA) & Nicholas Smith

Animation: European Space Agency (ESA) 

Contact: Hannah Guilfoyle, Media Assistant

By submitting a comment you acknowledge you agree with the Terms and Conditions.