Blast From Past Dates Youngest Known Neutron Star Binary

Dec 05, 2013

Image of the Circinus X-1 supernova remnant in optical (white), X-ray (blue), and radio light (purple).

With the help of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Australia Telescope Compact Array, an international team of astronomers has identified the glowing wreck of a star that exploded a mere 2,500 years ago — the blink of an eye in astronomical terms.

The observations, made by a team led by UW-Madison astronomy professor Sebastian Heinz, reveal an astrophysical novelty of the Milky Way: a glowing nebula created when the star exploded and, inside of it, the collapsed core of the exploded star, a neutron star, still clinging to its former companion star. It is the only known example of such a system in our galaxy.

The new observations are reported Dec. 3 in the Astrophysical Journal and are important because they provide a unique laboratory to test key theories of stellar evolution, especially about the stage of a star’s life just after most of it has been obliterated in a supernova explosion.

A detailed description of the result is presented in UW-Madison and NASA press releases, and in a NASA blog post by Professor Heinz.

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