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Pulsars with Black Holes May Not be the 'Holy Grail' for Einstein's Theory

First Posted: Dec 04, 2014 11:34 AM EST

The intermittent light emitted from pulsars allows scientists to verify Einstein's theory of relativity. However, this theory could be analyzed more effectively if a pulsar with a black hole were found. Now, scientists have announced that this fact isn't the case in two particular instances.

Pulsars are very dense neutron stars that are about the size of a city. They emit gamma radiation beams or X-rays when they rotate up to hundreds of times per second, which makes them ideal for testing the validity of the theory of general relativity. More specifically, they act as precise timekeepers and any deviation in their pulses can be detected. These deviations are what make testing possible.

Deviations can occur if there is a massive object close to the pulsar, such as another neutron star or a white dwarf. These binary systems can be used to verify the theory of gravity.

Yet last year, a very rare pulsar was detected in proximity of a supermassive black hole. This combination was thought to be an authentic "holy grail" for examining gravity. Now, scientists have found that there are at least two cases where this would not be the case.

The first case, the researchers found, occurs when the so-called principle of strong equivalence is violated. This principle of the theory of relativity indicates that the gravitational movement of a body that we test only depends on its position in space-time and not on what it is made up of. The second case is if there is a potential variation in the gravitational constant that determines the intensity of the gravitation pull between bodies. Despite it being a constant, it is one of those that is known with the least accuracy, with a precision of only one in 10,000.

In these two specific cases, the pulsar-black hole combination would not be the perfect "holy grail." This, in turn, reveals that researchers have further work to conduct when it comes to studying the physics of pulsars.

The findings are published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

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