Neutron stars may have solid surfaces, astrophysicists say

(ORDO NEWS) — The team of scientists published the results of their study in the journal Science, suggesting that neutron stars likely have a solid surface.

A study conducted by scientists from the University of California at Los Angeles (USA) showed that highly magnetized dead stars (magnetars) emit X-ray light, which indicates that they have a solid surface, but no atmosphere.

NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) satellite, launched in December 2021, has provided astrophysicists with interesting data to analyze.

This device measures the polarization of X-rays in space and the direction in which they oscillate.

The team of scientists was monitoring the magnetar 4U 0142 + 61, which is located 13,000 light years from Earth, in the constellation Cassiopeia. Scientists have observed polarized X-ray light from a magnetar for the first time.

At the end of their lives, massive stars explode as supernovae, leaving behind neutron stars. They have the most powerful magnetic fields in the universe, unlike other neutron stars.

These stars are known for erratic periods of activity accompanied by powerful X-rays and bursts of energy that are millions of times more powerful than those produced by the Sun.

X-rays passing through the atmosphere will produce much more polarized light, the researchers say. Polarized light is light in which all electric fields vibrate in only one direction.

The atmosphere in this case acts as a filter, limiting the degree of polarization.

The team of astrophysicists also found that lighter, higher-energy particles have a polarization angle shifted by 90 degrees.

Interestingly, theoretical models predicted something similar if the star had a solid crust surrounded by an outer magnetosphere.

Study co-author Professor Sylvia Zane explained that this was very unexpected. Scientists were convinced that their observations would reveal the existence of an atmosphere, but this did not happen.

Just as water turns to ice after reaching a critical point, the star’s gas has also solidified.

As Professor Roberto Turolla of the University of California explained, polarization at low energies indicates that a star’s magnetic field is likely strong enough to cause its atmosphere to condense.

Magnetic fields hold together the ions that form the solid crust of the star.

This is the first observation of a neutron star, providing an explanation for its solid crust.


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