Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Carbon Atmosphere Discovered on Neutron Star

06.11.2009
Evidence for a thin veil of carbon has been found on the neutron star in the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant. This discovery, made with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, resolves a ten-year mystery surrounding this object.

"The compact star at the center of this famous supernova remnant has been an enigma since its discovery," said Wynn Ho of the University of Southampton and lead author of a paper that appears in the latest issue of Nature. "Now we finally understand that it can be produced by a hot neutron star with a carbon atmosphere."

By analyzing Chandra's X-ray spectrum – akin to a fingerprint of energy – and applying it to theoretical models, Ho and his colleague Craig Heinke, from the University of Alberta, determined that the neutron star in Cassiopeia A, or Cas A for short, has an ultra-thin coating of carbon. This is the first time the composition of an atmosphere of an isolated neutron star has been confirmed.

The Chandra "First Light" image of Cas A in 1999 revealed a previously undetected point-like source of X-rays at the center. This object was presumed to be a neutron star, the typical remnant of an exploded star, but researchers were unable to understand its properties. Defying astronomers’ expectations, this object did not show any X-ray or radio pulsations or any signs of radio pulsar activity.

By applying a model of a neutron star with a carbon atmosphere to this object, Ho and Heinke found that the region emitting X-rays would uniformly cover a typical neutron star. This would explain the lack of X-ray pulsations because -- like a lightbulb that shines consistently in all directions -- this neutron star would be unlikely to display any changes in its intensity as it rotates.

Scientists previously have used a neutron star model with a hydrogen atmosphere giving a much smaller emission area, corresponding to a hot spot on a typical neutron star, which should produce X-ray pulsations as it rotates. Interpreting the hydrogen atmosphere model without pulsations would require a tiny size, consistent only with exotic stars made of strange quark matter.

"Our carbon veil solves one of the big questions about the neutron star in Cas A," said Craig Heinke. "People have been willing to consider some weird explanations, so it's a relief to discover a less peculiar solution."

Unlike most astronomical objects, neutron stars are small enough to understand on a human scale. For example, neutron stars typically have a diameter of about 14 miles, only slightly longer than a half-marathon. The atmosphere of a neutron star is on an even smaller scale. The researchers calculate that the carbon atmosphere is only about 4 inches thick, because it has been compressed by a surface gravity that is 100 billion times stronger than on Earth.

"For people who are used to hearing about immense sizes of things in space, it might be a surprise that we can study something so small," said Ho. "It's also funny to think that such a thin veil over this star played a key role in frustrating researchers."

In Earth’s time frame, the estimated age of the neutron star in Cas A is only several hundred years, making it about ten times younger than other neutron stars with detected surface emission. Therefore, the Cas A neutron star gives a unique window into the early life of a cooling neutron star.

The carbon itself comes from a combination of material that has fallen back after the supernova, and nuclear reactions on the hot surface of the neutron star which convert hydrogen and helium into carbon.

The X-ray spectrum and lack of pulsar activity suggest that the magnetic field on the surface of this neutron star is relatively weak. Similarly low magnetic fields are implied for several other young neutron stars by study of their weak X-ray pulsations. It is not known whether these neutron stars will have low magnetic fields for their entire lives, and never become radio pulsars, or whether processes in their interior will lead to the development of stronger magnetic fields as they age.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

Megan Watzke | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.harvard.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>