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Missing neutron star found hidden in a supernova after a 32-year search


Enveloped in gas and dust from an exploding star, the neutron star plays a winning game of hide and seek.

Cardiff University

When a giant star burst into a supernova 32 years ago, it had to leave behind an incredibly dense core, known as a neutron star. But a giant explosion called Supernova 1987A throws gas and dust into space like a toddler throwing pasta around his chair – it was a mess. All the extra dust obscured our vision of the neutron star, but using sharp new images, astronomers finally discovered the hiding place of the zombie star.

A study published in the Astrophysical Journal on November 19 used the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the dense cloud of dust surrounding Supernova 1987A, located in the Great Magellanic Cloud, about 168,000 light-years from Earth. . Looking through the dense cosmic smog, astronomers were able to find spots of dust that they believed possessed a neutron star.

"For the first time, we can say that inside this remnant there is a neutron star in the supernova remnant." said Phil Gypsy, an astronomer at Cardiff University and the study's first author, in a press release. "Its light is obscured by a very thick cloud of dust blocking the direct light from a neutron star at many wavelengths, like a fog covering a spotlight."

The 66 telescopes constituting the ALMA are located in the Chilean desert. used in collaboration with the Event Horizon telescope team to snap the first black hole image earlier this year . The researchers used the array to observe the submillimeter wavelengths of light, which helped pull the dust curtain onto the hidden star.

Supernova 1987A was first spotted in February 1987 and provided one of the best examples of space phenomena for researchers, ultimately revealing a ton of knowledge about the lives of giant stars, what happens when they collapse and what a stellar afterlife looks like.

Astronomers have suggested a number of destinies for the star at the center of the supernova as a result of the hiding heroes of the neutron star. Other researchers posit that further collapse could lead to a black hole or an unusual type of star known as a "quark star" that is full of exotic particles and strange physics.

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