Astrophysicist Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian Explores Deep Space

WASHINGTON — Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian and Dr. Keith Gendreau, researchers at NASA’s Goddard, Washington, DC center, are making news in the mysterious world of astronomy, trying to put together pieces of a heavenly puzzle of dying Neutron Stars that are believed to stars that have undergone an interior collapse. They are spinning pulsars, beaming lights, intense magnetism and are the densest matter known. These are to be studied using a highly sophisticated electronic detector called the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), a multimillion dollar, approximately one cubic meter box, packed by electronic devices, built by the two leading scientists.

“Neutron stars are fantastical stars that are extraordinary in many ways,” said Arzoumanian. “They are the densest objects in the universe and the fastest, and most accurate, spinning objects known, some up to hundreds of times per second, and the most strongly magnetic objects known.”

The structure and composition of neutron stars are so extreme that normal atoms are pulverized, freeing subatomic particles like neutrons, protons, electrons and a spectrum of radiation.

A partnership between NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Naval Research Laboratory, and a score of universities, including Montreal’s McGill University, NICER should give scientists their first measurements of the size of a neutron star.

“They emit light all across the spectrum, from radio waves to visible light up to X-rays and gamma rays, primarily in narrow beams from their magnetic poles. And if we happen to be in the path of the sweep we see a flash every time one of these beams go by and the stars from a distance appear to be pulsing, so they’re called pulsars,” Arzoumanian said.

Scientists will also demonstrate the potential of using the timing of pulses from neutron stars for deep space navigation.

“We’re going to look at a subset of pulsars in the sky called millisecond pulsars,” said Keith Gendreau, “The pulses that we see are so regular that they remind us of atomic clocks, which are the basis of the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites,” said Gendreau. Close to two thousand neutron stars are known to exist.

NICER was launched into the space by a rocket on June 5, and was hooked by Canadarm to the International Space Center.

The soft X-rays emitted by the neutron stars are too weak to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. Therefore the detectors had to be located outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Arzoumanian was born in Montreal, Canada. He is a graduate of AGBU Alex Manoogian school and of Mc Gill University. He obtained his PhD from Princeton University and conducted research in Cornell University. He currently resides in Greenbelt, Md.