A Ring Inside the Small Magellanic Cloud Conceals a Well-Hidden Neutron Star

Saturday, 07 April 2018 - 12:06PM
Space
Astronomy
Saturday, 07 April 2018 - 12:06PM
A Ring Inside the Small Magellanic Cloud Conceals a Well-Hidden Neutron Star
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ESO/NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/F. Vogt et al.
As one of the Milky Way's closest neighbors, you would think we'd see an entire star hiding inside the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy about 200,000 lightyears from here. But neutron stars are no ordinary stars.

And this new discovery is a fascinating one: the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has just used their Very Large Telescope in Chile to track down a supernova remnant inside a system named 1E 0102.2-7219, which contains an expanding ring of gas left behind by a destroyed star. But within that circle of gas, the ESO managed to identify an isolated neutron star, the first one ever found outside the Milky Way.

Neutron stars are small and extremely dense, often formed from supernovas of much bigger (and more normal) stars. To help visualize that better, a neutron star can often contain the mass of our Sun while only being 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter.




Because of their small stature and the fact that they're not bright stars - they produce light at X-ray wavelengths - neutron can be very difficult to detect. After the Very Large Telescope's MUSE instrument first picked up that ring of gas, it noted a small X-ray source which had been detected before but not seen as anything significant.

Only after taking another look at 1E 0102.2-7219 using the specialized Chandra X-ray Observatory did the Very Large Telescope's research team determine a neutron star was likely sitting in the center of all this. In hindsight, it almost seems obvious when the neutron star was being circled by tons of gas rings, as if the universe itself was trying to draw attention to it.



 According to Frédéric Vogt, who said the following in a statement from the ESO:

Opening quote
"If you look for a point source, it doesn't get much better than when the Universe quite literally draws a circle around it to show you where to look."
Closing quote


With a growing number of fancy and specialized observatories and telescopes in our arsenal, there's likely more obvious treasures hidden out there.
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