Home Sciences Strange neutron stars with signs of life discovered in a stellar graveyard

Strange neutron stars with signs of life discovered in a stellar graveyard


An unusual radio signal emitted by a neutron star that completes a rotation every 76 seconds baffles astronomers: it comes from a “stellar graveyard”, where pulsations could not supposedly be recorded because all the stars are “dead”.

A new study led by the University of Sydney, in Australia, and based on observations made with the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa, suggests the existence of a new variety of neutron stars, which would be scattered throughout the galaxy. According to the conclusions of the research, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, these strange neutron stars would continue to “beat” and give signs of life despite being surrounded by other inert stars.

There is life in the graveyard

a “star graveyard” It is an area of ​​the cosmos populated only by the remains of already inactive stars, which have reached that place due to the effect of their own gravitational forces to use it as their final resting place. However, the data obtained in the study led by Dr. Manisha Caleb indicate that this would not always be the case: the astronomer and an international team of collaborators detected the activity of a mysterious neutron star, which rotates every 76 seconds and emits signals despite being located in a stellar graveyard.

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Initially, the star was detected from a single pulse. Later it was possible confirm multiple pulses, using simultaneous and consecutive images of the sky, provided by the MeerTRAP team. The different signals, each eight seconds long, confirmed the position of the enigmatic neutron star. According to a press release, around 3,000 neutron stars are known in our galaxy so far.

The Neutron stars are stellar remnants produced from the gravitational collapse of a massive star of enormous dimensions: they are formed after consuming all the fuel present in its core and exploding in the form of a supernova. Although considerable progress has been made in recent years in its study, scientists still do not know the causes and characteristics of different phenomena related to the deployment of its activity in the cosmos.

A new variety of neutron stars

The population of radio-emitting neutron stars is known to encompass objects with spin periods ranging from milliseconds to tens of seconds. As they age and spin more slowly, their radio emission is expected to cease. However, the discovery of the radio-emitting neutron star in the stellar graveyard, named PSR J0901-4046change the rules of the game.

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In addition to exhibiting properties that are different from those known for other neutron stars, the enigmatic star generates ongoing radio emission and challenges our current understanding of How do these systems evolve?. The radio emission has unique characteristics, such as its periodicity and its partial cancellation, which provide important clues about the emission mechanism that these strange cosmic objects follow.

According to the scientists in charge of the new study, the neutron star would have an approximate age of 5.3 million years. Now, the researchers believe that it must become an observational challenge to detect similar sources, since everything indicates that there is a larger yet unidentified population of this class of structures. The discovery establishes the existence of a new variety of neutron stars, called ultra-long period stars, which would have a direct connection with two other phenomena that arouse the curiosity of astronomers: highly magnetized neutron stars or magnetars and fast radio bursts. .


Discovery of a radio-emitting neutron star with an ultra-long spin period of 76 s. Manisha Caleb et al. Nature Astronomy (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01688-x

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