After 3-decade 'star trek', scientists find missing neutron star formed in 1987 supernova explosion

The neutron star was shrouded in dust from the supernova explosion that occurred 160,000 light-years away in a neighbouring galaxy, experts say.


                            After 3-decade 'star trek', scientists find missing neutron star formed in 1987 supernova explosion

The three-decade-long hunt for a neutron star has finally come to an end. Scientists from Cardiff University claim to have identified the location of the missing neutron star that was created during the 1987 supernova explosion.

The 1987 event, which marked the end of a star's life in the neighboring galaxy, should have given birth to a neutron star. But its missing status meant that it puzzled astronomers until now.

"Our new findings will now enable astronomers to better understand how massive stars end their lives, leaving behind these extremely dense neutron stars", says Dr. Mikako Matsuura, a leading member of the study.

Astronomers first spotted the explosion 160,000 light-years away in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Called the supernova 1987A, it was the closest supernova explosion observed in over 400 years. Since its discovery, it has continued to fascinate astronomers who have been presented with the perfect opportunity to study the phases before, during, and after the death of a star, says the study.

Understanding the different stages of the star reached a standstill as astronomers could not observe the remnants from the explosion, the neutron star. And many astronomers began to question whether their understanding of a star's life was correct.

In an attempt to unravel the mystery behind the explosion, the team used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a group of 66 radio telescopes in Chile, to look for signs of the missing star.

They observed a blob of bright and hot dust concentrated in a specific region. “We tested a few different explanations, but we think that the most likely explanation is that there is this neutron star inside of there that is heating up the dust and making it shine”, lead author of the study Dr. Phil Cigan, from Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy, told NewScientist.

Artistic rendering of a neutron star enveloped by a shroud of dust and gas. (Cardiff University)

The observation led the research team to conclude that the neutron star was shrouded in dust from the supernova explosion, which gave rise to huge amounts of gas with a temperature of over a million degrees. But as the gas began to cool down quickly below zero degrees centigrade, they explain, some of the gas transformed into a solid - dust.

"For the very first time, we can tell that there is a neutron star inside this cloud within the supernova remnant. Its light has been veiled by a very thick cloud of dust, blocking the direct light from the neutron star at many wavelengths like fog masking a spotlight", says Dr. Cigan.

The research team believes that astronomers will be able to study the neutron star in the future. "We are confident that this neutron star exists behind the cloud and that we know its precise location. Perhaps when the dust cloud begins to clear up in the future, astronomers will be able to directly see the neutron star for the very first time", explains Dr. Matsuura.

The findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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