Friday, February 23, 2024

Neutron star discovered in center of Supernova 1987A


Editor summary: The nearby supernova SN 1987A was visible to the naked eye, and its evolution has been observed over the ensuing decades. The explosion is thought to have produced a neutron star or black hole, but none has been directly detected. Fransson et al. observed a remnant of SN 1987A using near- and mid-infrared integral field spectroscopy. They identified emission lines of ionized argon that appear only near the center of the remnant. Photoionization models show that the line ratios and velocities can be explained by ionizing radiation from a neutron star illuminating gas from the inner parts of the exploded star

Nature News:

Astronomers used the [JWST] to finally spot signs of an ultradense ‘neutron star’ lurking in the explosion’s core in a galaxy that orbits the Milky Way. Light from the explosion reached Earth 37 years ago this week, in a supernova that revolutionized modern astrophysics by providing an up-close look at how stars die.

JWST did not observe the neutron star directly, because it remains obscured behind a veil of dust from the explosion. But the telescope detected light coming from argon and sulfur atoms that had been ionized, or electrically charged, by radiation blazing from the long-sought neutron star.

Over the years, astronomers watched as rings of gas and dust expanded outwards from the site of the explosion, usually growing dimmer but sometimes brightening when various ejected materials collided.

One outcome of such a supernova is to leave behind a black hole. But early observations of SN 1987A, such as the wave of neutrinos, suggested that it should have given rise to a neutron star, which can be just 20 kilometres across but is so dense that a teaspoonful weighs millions of tonnes.

Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers have ended a nearly decade-long game of celestial hide-and-seek after they discovered a neutron star in the wreckage of a stellar explosion.

"For a long time, we've been searching for evidence for a neutron star in the gas and dust of Supernova 1987A," Mike Barlow, an emeritus professor of physics and astronomy and part of the team behind this discovery, told "Finally, we have the evidence that we've been seeking."

Barlow suggested that researchers may be able to distinguish between a naked neutron star and one clothed by a pulsar-wind nebula by making further infrared observations of the heart of Supernova 1987A with the JWST's NIRSpec instrument.

"We have a program which is gathering data now, which will be getting data with 3 or 4 times the resolution in the near-infrared," he concluded. "So by obtaining these new data, we may be able to distinguish the 2 models that have been proposed to explain the emission powered by a neutron star.


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