Weve finally spotted a neutron star that has been missing for over 30 years. In 1987, astronomers saw a star in one of our neighbouring galaxies explode in a supernova that should have left behind an incredibly dense neutron star, but since then nobody has been able to find it – until now.
The 1987 supernova was the closest one weve observed in more than 400 years, making it of particular interest to astronomers. It was about 163,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Usually, you see a very bright flash from a distant galaxy, but you cant see much of whats expanding out, says Phil Cigan at Cardiff University in the UK. This is really the first time weve had a supernova close enough that we can peer into the heart of it.
We have long known that this explosion should have left behind a neutron star, but it is hidden behind clouds of dust and gas so nobody has been able to find it. Cigan and his colleagues spotted the signature of the neutron star using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a group of 66 radio telescopes in Chile.
With that powerful observatory, they found a blob of dust thats brighter and hotter than the surrounding areas. The bright blob is just where wed expect the neutron star to be. We tested a few different explanations, but we think that the most likely explanation is that there is this neutron star inside of there thats heating up the dust and making it shine, says Cigan.
While we cannot see the neutron star directly right now, Cigan says that in 50 to 100 years the dust should clear enough for it to shine through more clearly. Then well be able to learn more about this newborn neutron star, which will help us understand the details of how regular stars go supernova and what happens next.
Journal reference: The Astrophysical Journal, DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ab4b46
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