NASA astronomers have discovered a neutron star located about 200,000 light years from Earth. The discovery was made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.
Although astronomers have identified ten similar objects in the past, this is the first time that a neutron star outside Milky Way galaxy has been discovered. Jocelyn Bell, a British astrophysicist, was the first to discover spinning neutron stars about 50 years ago.
“Neutron stars are the ultra-dense cores of massive stars that collapse and undergo a supernova explosion,” NASA explained on its website.
“This newly identified neutron star is a rare variety that has both a low magnetic field and no stellar companion.”
Scientists believe this is an isolated neutron star that was created in a supernova explosion about 2,000 years ago. It is about the size of a city and is located within the remains of a supernova – known as 1E 0102.2-7219 (E0102 for short) – in the Small Magellanic Cloud. This neutron star is incredibly dense and has a mass about 1.4 times that of the sun. According to NASA, this neutron star is characterized by a low magnetic field and has no stellar companion.
Chandra data of E0102 suggests that the supernova remnant is dominated by a large ring-shaped structure in X-rays, associated with the blast wave of the supernova. The MUSE data revealed a smaller ring of gas expanding more slowly than the blast wave.
The detailed findings of the study have been published in the April issue of Nature Astronomy.
The Chandra program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Chandra’s science and flight operations are controlled by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
NASA has also revealed its plans to launch a mission to learn more about neutron stars.
“The agency plans to launch the two-in-one Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, aboard SpaceX CRS-11, a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station to be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket,” NASA said in a statement.
“The mission will focus especially on pulsars — those neutron stars that appear to wink on and off because their spin sweeps beams of radiation past us, like a cosmic lighthouse,” NASA stated.
This spacecraft will feature 56 X-ray mirrors to collect more data about pulsars.