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A neutron star has been discovered in the remnants of the most studied supernova in history

A neutron star has been discovered in the remnants of the most studied supernova in history

Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), an international team of astronomers has found conclusive evidence of the existence of one Neutron star in the rest of the Supernova 1987Athe most studied in history and the only one seen with the naked eye in the last 400 years before disappearing.

Supernova 1987A exploded in 1987 and was visible to the naked eye. His remains have since been examined

It exploded on February 23, 1987 – hence the name – in the Large Magellanic Cloud in the southern sky at a Distance of 160,000 light yearsand was the next observed supernova, seen by Johannes Kepler in 1604.

Although he rest Supernova SN 1987A has been studied for more than three decades, but scientists have yet to see it compact object what was expected during the explosion.

Neutron star or black hole?

Some indirect evidence, such as the detection of neutrinos a day before the burst was observed, had indicated that it was likely one Neutron starbut it was not ruled out that it had then collapsed, leaving a black hole. Now a study in Scienceconfirm the first option.

In general, supernovae are the spectacular end result of Star Collapse with more than eight times the mass of the Sun. They are the main sources of chemical elements (such as carbon, oxygen, silicon, iron or magnesium) that make life possible. The collapsed core of these stars can give rise to much smaller neutron stars, made up of the densest matter in the known universe, or create a black hole.

In the case of 1987Athe stage was thereby darkened dense gas and dust that was created after the explosion. This made it impossible to see the compact object directly and figure out whether it was a neutron star or a black hole, but this is where the James Webb Telescope’s great resolution and sensitivity comes into play.

The James Webb Telescope’s high infrared resolution and sensitivity allowed us to delve into the dense gas and dust left behind after the stellar explosion

The authors of the study led by the researcher Claes Fransson from Stockholm University (Sweden) observed the supernova remnant in Infrared wavelengths with the JWST using Spectroscopya light management technique that made it possible to determine the chemical composition and movements of the gas.

In this way they found signs or emission lines of highly ionized argon and sulfur atoms (stripped of their outer electrons) near where the star exploded. According to the authors, the composition and ionization of these gaseous elements can only be explained if there is one bright source of ultraviolet and X-rays comes from a Neutron star. A black hole would not produce the observed lines.

“The fact that only argon and sulfur emissions are detected shows that the material is being formed very close to the center and the ionizing compact object, since these heavy elements are created when the explosion occurs near the compact object,” emphasizes Fransson to SINC. However, the majority of the mass of the exploded star is now expanding at a speed of up to 10,000 km/second and is distributed over a large volume.

The fact that only the emission of argon and sulfur – heavy elements – is detected shows that the material originates very close to the center and the compact ionizing object, most likely a neutron star.

Claes Fransson (Stockholm University)

“Now we know that there is a compact source of ionizing radiation,” he adds, “and most likely it is one Neutron star. “We have been looking for it since the explosion, but we had to wait for JWST to confirm the predictions.”

Two ionization options

Regarding the way the neutron star would emit this radiation, another of the authors, a professor, commented Mike Barlow from University College London (United Kingdom), explains: “It can be issued by the Million degree surface of the star of neutrons hot, or for one Pulsar wind nebula (winds of relativistic particles accelerated by this rotating object and interacting with the supernova’s surrounding material) that could have arisen as the neutron star rotates rapidly and pulls charged particles around it.

The atoms may have been ionized by radiation from the neutron star or by a “pulsar wind nebula” (winds of particles accelerated by the rotating star and interacting with surrounding matter).

According to Fransson soon “There will be further observations with the Webb with more spectral detail and we will also get new ones with the Hubble Space Telescope in the optical and ultraviolet ranges that will be able to distinguish between these two main scenarios.”

In addition to universities in Sweden and the United Kingdom, other institutions in Europe and the United States, including the Center for Astrobiology (TAXIINTA-CSIC), which takes part in the Instruments MIRI and NIRSpec of the Webb, which was used to obtain the data for this study.


C. Fransson et al. “Emission lines due to ionizing radiation from a compact object in the remnant of supernova 1987A”. Science (2024).

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