The science of ‘Star Wars’: What even are pulsars, really?

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If you’ve read the books or perused the Wikipedia page for “Star Wars,” you’d know that the “Star Wars” universe briefly mentions “pulsars.” The Godsheart, for example, is a sacred neutron star featured in the stories. While the books go over how the pulsar is sacred, you’re sort of left with the impression that neutron stars are like any other stars. In fact, pulsars are pretty significant in the world of astrophysics and were first discovered in 1967 when scientists observed an anomalous, flashing phenomenon.

Pulsars are essentially dead stars that rotate. While it might seem weird to associate stars with life cycles, it’s the simplest way to explain the formation of a neutron star. Any star that is created from a cloud of dust and gas is known as a nebula; when all of the gas and matter is collected by gravity, you end up with a ball of heated hydrogen gas, otherwise known as a star. The life cycle of this star is dependent on its size.

Since the inside of a star is so hot, these atoms begin to combine and collect, leading to the formation of bigger atoms. Eventually, the atoms stop fusing, and the star, which is too massive to be stable, dies and collapses. For a star much bigger than the sun, its death is observed in a fiery explosion known as a supernova. Aside from the radiation and heavy metal formed in this explosion, a remnant of the star is also left behind. If this remnant is about three times the mass of the sun, a neutron star is formed. To put it simply, the Godsheart used to be a giant ball of gas that then exploded.

At this point, the star is dead. It won’t form new atoms, but it does emit a lot of radiation, especially in the first few years of its formation. Pulsars, in particular, are observed due to the way in which they release radiation; instead of emitting X-rays across the surface of the star, a pulsar will only release the radiation from its north and south poles. Because the pulsar’s radiation is what is registered and observed, the pulsar appears to be blinking.

While the science behind pulsars isn’t covered in “Star Wars,” the choice to mention it is still pretty cool. Neutron stars and pulsars have led to other incredible scientific discoveries. The Godsheart may be sacred in the “Star Wars” universe, but it’s no less important in our world!

Contact Chandini Dialani at [email protected].