A Ring Inside the Small Magellanic Cloud Conceals a Well-Hidden Neutron Star
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.
Data from #MUSE instrument on ESO's #VLT reveales remarkable ring of gas. This discovery allowed ESO Fellows Frédéric Vogt, @astro_Liz and their team to track down an elusive hidden neutron star far beyond the Milky Way. https://t.co/hJjalp7zJh pic.twitter.com/3ATq0dPAqC— ESO (@ESO) 5 April 2018
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:
With a growing number of fancy and specialized observatories and telescopes in our arsenal, there's likely more obvious treasures hidden out there.