(ORDO NEWS) — In February 1987, the sky burst into flames. Astronomers have observed a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 167 thousand light years away.
But when the fireworks died down, something was missing. There was no sign of a neutron star that should have remained at the site of the explosion.
Now, 33 years later, astronomers have discovered a dead star shining from a thick cloud of dust at the center of a supernova remnant.
There are several types of supernovae, depending on the type of star dying. Those that produce neutron stars – Type II supernovae – start with a star 8-30 times the mass of the Sun, which becomes unstable as the elements that support nuclear fusion burn out.
The supernova explodes, ejecting its outer shell, light and neutrinos into space, while the core collapses into a neutron star.
In the case of the 1987 supernova, everything happened as expected. An old supergiant star called Sanduleak -69 202, roughly 20 times the mass of the Sun, created a spectacular light show – so bright that the explosion was visible to the naked eye on Earth.
The event left behind a blazing supernova remnant called SN 1987A. But for a long time, astronomers could not find traces of the expected newborn neutron star.
Then, last November, a team of researchers led by Phil Cheegan of Cardiff University in the UK announced that they had found a hot, bright ball in the core of the remnant using the Atacama array in Chile. They stated that it is a neutron star, shrouded in a thick cloud of dust.
In a new article, scientists have theoretically demonstrated that a glowing ball could indeed be a neutron star. Its brightness matches the thermal radiation of a very young neutron star – in other words, it is still very, very hot from a supernova explosion. They named the star NS 1987A.
According to the analysis of astronomers, NS 1987A is about 25 kilometers in diameter, about 1.38 times the mass of the Sun.
Since the neutron star is still shrouded in dust, direct observation to support this discovery is not currently possible. Astronomers will be watching her for decades.
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