Fresh puzzle for astronomers who discover a new object within a dead star

10.04.18

PEMS researchers Dr. Ivo Rolf Seitenzahl and Dr. Ashley Ruiter, both Australian Research Council Future Fellows, were part of an international team who found a mysterious object within the remnants of a young supernova. Their findings were published on 02 April 2018 in Nature Astronomy.

"We discovered the X-ray emitting neutron star in an approximately 2,000 year old supernova remnant in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite dwarf galaxy of our own Milky Way,” says Dr. Seitenzahl.

A supernova is a massive explosion of a dying star that ejects its mass and heavy elements into the surrounding space. The team came across the discovery as they were investigating several significant and unsolved problems in astrophysics: how do massive stars evolve to form a particular type of supernova, how do these supernovae explode, and what elements are produced in these explosions?

“A large portion of life on Earth is composed of the chemical elements produced in supernova explosions. We are still learning details about our origins - in particular, how dying massive stars explode and produce elements such as oxygen, neon, and sulphur,” Dr. Seitenzahl says.

Dr. Frédéric Vogt, a Fellow at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, and lead author of the article says Supernova remnants are crucial to understanding the ecology of our galaxy.

“Surrounding the neutron star, the team identified a torus of relatively cold - approximately room temperature - slowly expanding gas, consisting predominantly of oxygen and neon.

“It is the first time that such a structure is identified in the vicinity of this kind of isolated neutron star. This is yet another demonstration of the power of integral field spectroscopic observations to discover new facets of the Universe,” Dr Vogt says.

Read the UNSW Newsroom article in full here.

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