The closeness of the stars, combined with their nature, has allowed astronomers using the National Science Foundation's Green Bank Telescope to make the best measurements yet of the complex gravitational interactions in such a system.
In addition, detailed studies of this system may provide a key clue for resolving one of the principal outstanding problems of fundamental physics -- the true nature of gravity.
Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) said that this triple system gives them a natural cosmic laboratory far better than anything found before for learning exactly how such three-body systems work and potentially for detecting problems with General Relativity that physicists expect to see under extreme conditions.
West Virginia University graduate student Jason Boyles (now at Western Kentucky University) originally uncovered the pulsar as part of a large-scale search for pulsars with the GBT. Pulsars are neutron stars that emit lighthouse-like beams of radio waves that rapidly sweep through space as the object spins on its axis. One of the search's discoveries was a pulsar some 4200 light-years from Earth, spinning nearly 366 times per second.
The system gives the scientists the best opportunity yet to discover a violation of a concept called the Equivalence Principle. This principle states that the effect of gravity on a body does not depend on the nature or internal structure of that body.
The findings have been published in the journal Nature.
--ANI (Posted on 06-01-2014)