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Space telescope spies neutron star in the debris of famous supernova – Monomaxos


Scientists have confirmed what became of a star that exploded in a stunning supernova visible to Earth more than three decades ago: It morphed into a neutron star, one of the oddest objects in the universe.

In 1987, a star in a nearby galaxy went supernova and its fiery demise was detected in Earth’s nighttime sky with the naked eye for months. Scientists figured when its core collapsed, the remnants would turn into one of two things: a black hole, where nothing escapes; or a neutron star, the most dense object in the universe besides a black hole.

The trouble was there was so much debris, astronomers couldn’t see past the dust. But NASA’s Webb Space Telescope cut through the clutter by peering in infrared light and saw two telltale chemical signatures — argon and sulfur — of a pulsing super-hot neutron star, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Since the explosion was recent and well-tracked, this discovery should help astronomers better understand this type of cosmic oddball and its predecessors that helped seed the universe with important elements such as carbon and iron.

This image made with the Hubble Space Telescope and released by NASA on Aug. 10, 2020 shows the star Alpha Orionis, or Betelgeuse, a red supergiant. The star, one of the biggest and brightest in the night sky, will momentarily vanish as an asteroid passes in front of it late Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, into early Tuesday. The event should be visible to millions of people along a narrow corridor stretching from central Asia’s Tajikistan and Armenia, across Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain, all the way to Miami and the Florida Keys, and, finally, Mexico. (Andrea Dupree (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), Ronald Gilliland (STScI), NASA and ESA via AP)
This image provided by NASA shows an artist’s illustration of the Tess telescope. Astronomers have discovered six planets orbiting a bright nearby star in perfect rhythmic harmony. They say it's a rare, frozen-in-time cosmic wonder that can help explain how solar systems across the galaxy came to be. The compact in-sync system, announced Wednesday, is 100 light-years away. (NASA via AP)

This neutron star is only 12 miles (20 kilometers) from end to end, yet weighs 1 1/2 times our sun. It’s densely packed with little space between parts of its atoms. The aftermath of the so-called supernova 1987A is likely the only time modern astronomy has witnessed the birth and early years of a neutron star, even though there are closer but older ones in our own galaxy, scientists said.

“Besides the black hole, these are the most exotic objects we have in the universe,” said lead author Claes Fransson, an astrophysicist at Stockholm University in Sweden. “We know about these objects from the 1960s, but we haven’t seen any of them being really formed.”

Images of the distant supernova remnant shows what Fransson calls “a ring of pearls” encircling a cloud of dust. Somewhere in the middle of that dust is the neutron star, he said.

Scientists had long suspected the collapsed core was now a neutron star. But this measurement by the Webb telescope, even though it isn’t a direct image of the neutron star, provides a pretty definitive answer, Fransson and outside scientists said.

The case for a neutron star is well-made, said Stanford University astrophysicist Roger Blandford, who wasn’t part of the study.

Because the supernova explosion was so recent and close, it “is ‘a gift that keeps on giving’, teaching us about neutrinos, the evolution of stars and now what happens following the explosion,” Blandford said in an email.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.





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