Pulsars (short for pulsating stars) are a fairly extreme phenomenon in our Universe.

Created after large stars turn supernova, pulsars are super dense balls of matter. They’re small (often only a few tens of kilometers across) but heavier than our Sun.

They rotate rapidly and they emit beams of intense radiation from the poles of their magnetic fields, observable from Earth, even though thousands of light years away.

So what happens when things get really extreme? When a pulsar is pummeled by an asteroid up to a billion tonnes in weight? What happens then?

Well – according to a recent study of a pulsar called PSR J0738-4042 (37,000 light-years away from Earth), the asteroid is zapped, vaporised by the pulsar’s powerful beams.

CSIRO astronomer Dr Ryan Shannon, a member of the scientific team examining this activity talked recently with Science Friday.

Discussing the nature of pulsars and explaining why this research is important in understanding planetary evolution, even in the most extreme of environments – you can listen to Ryan here.


The study has been published as a paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a leading journal of astronomical research: Evidence of an asteroid encountering a pulsar [external link].