April 5 (UPI) — Using a combination of telescopes, astronomers have located the first ever isolated neutron star with low magnetic field outside the Milky Way. Astronomers found the stellar corpse among debris of an ancient supernova explosion inside the Small Magellanic Cloud.
Scientists used data collected by the MUSE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to render a massive ring of gas inside a system named 1E 0102.2-7219. Inside the ring, researchers identified an X-ray source.
Astronomers determined the X-ray source is situated exactly in the center of the ring, suggesting a link between the source and surrounding gas structure.
Follow-up observations with the Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed an isolated neutron star with a low magnetic field.
Neutron stars are thought be abundant but are difficult to find, as they only emit X-rays and are often shrouded by thick layers of gas and dust. In this case, a ring of gas showed researchers exactly where to look.
“If you look for a point source, it doesn’t get much better than when the Universe quite literally draws a circle around it to show you where to look,” ESO astronomer Frédéric Vogt said in a news release.
When stars die and collapse on themselves, shockwaves rebound into space and gas and dust explode outward. These ripples of gas and dust are known as supernova remnants, and they play important roles in redistributing stellar materials.
The massive structures carry fresh supplies of heavy elements to regions of stellar formation, fueling the next generation of stars.
Colorful pictures of the Small Magellanic Cloud and the supernova remnant 1E 0102.2-7219, shared this week by ESO, showcase the circle of cosmic life that’s perpetuated by stellar death.
Researchers described their discovery of the stellar corpse in the journal Nature Astronomy.
“This is the first object of its kind to be confirmed beyond the Milky Way, made possible using MUSE as a guidance tool,” ESO researcher Liz Bartlett said. “We think that this could open up new channels of discovery and study for these elusive stellar remains.”