Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

XMM-Newton sees ’hot spots’ on neutron stars

25.04.2005


X-ray image of the neutron star ’Geminga’


Thanks to data from ESA’s XMM-Newton spacecraft, European astronomers have observed for the first time rotating ‘hot spots’ on the surfaces of three nearby neutron stars.

This result provides a breakthrough in understanding the ‘thermal geography’ of neutron stars, and provides the first measurement of very small-sized features on objects hundreds to thousands light-years away. The spots vary in size from that of a football field to that of a golf course.

Neutron stars are extremely dense and fast-rotating stars mainly composed of neutrons. They are extremely hot when they are born, being remnants of supernovae explosions. Their surface temperature is thought to gradually cool down with time, decreasing to less than one million degrees after 100 000 years.



However, astrophysicists had proposed the existence of physical mechanisms by which the electromagnetic energy emitted by neutron stars could be funnelled back into their surface in certain regions. Such regions, or ‘hot spots’, would then be reheated and reach temperatures much higher than the rest of the cooling surface. Such peculiar ‘thermal geography’ of neutron stars, although speculated, could never be observed directly before.

Using XMM-Newton data, a team of European astronomers have observed rotating hot spots on three isolated neutron stars that are well-known X-ray and gamma-ray emitters. The three observed neutron stars are ‘PSR B0656-14’, ‘PSR B1055-52’, and ‘Geminga’, respectively at about 800, 2000 and 500 light-years away from us.

As for normal stars, the temperature of a neutron star is measured through its colour that indicates the energy the star emits. The astronomers have divided the neutron star surfaces into ten wedges and have measured the temperature of each wedge. By doing so, they could observe rise and fall of emission from the star’s surface, as the hot spots disappear and appear again while the star rotates. It is also the first time that surface details ranging in size from less than 100 metres to about one kilometre are identified on the surface of objects hundreds to thousands light-years away.

The team think that the hot spots are most probably linked to the polar regions of the neutron stars. This is where the star’s magnetic field funnels charged particles back towards the surface, in a way somehow similar to the ‘Northern lights’, or aurorae, seen at the poles of planets which have magnetic fields, such as Earth, Jupiter and Saturn.

“This result is a first, and a key to understand the internal structure, the dominant role of the magnetic field treading the star interior and its magnetosphere, and the complex phenomenology of neutron stars,” says Patrizia Caraveo, of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (IASF), Milan, Italy.

“It has been possible only thanks to the new capabilities provided by the ESA XMM-Newton observatory. We look forward to applying our method to many more magnetically isolated neutron stars,” concludes Caraveo.

However, there is still a puzzle for the astronomers. If the three ‘musketeers’ are predicted to have polar caps of comparable dimensions, why then are the hot spots observed in the three cases so different in size, ranging from 60 metres to one kilometre? What mechanisms rule the difference? Or does this mean some of the current predictions on neutron stars magnetic fields need to be revised?

The result, by Andrea De Luca, Patrizia Caraveo, Sandro Mereghetti, Matteo Negroni (IASF) and Giovanni Bignami of CESR, Toulouse and University of Pavia, is published in the 20 April 05 issue of the Astrophysical Journal (http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/ApJ, vol. 623:1051-1069).

Norbert Schartel | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMLY9NQS7E_index_0.html
http://www.sciops.esa.int

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 >>>