KOMPAS.com – An infant neutron star, the super-dense core of a stellar explosion, has been observed for the first time. The 12.4 mile-wide object is the youngest object of its kind ever discovered, having appeared just 330 years ago.
It has been cloaked in mystery since it was identified as a powerful X-ray source in 1999. Astronomers now know the source is a neutron star 11,000 light years from Earth at the centre of the supernova Cassiopeia A.
Neutron stars are the super-dense compact cores of massive stars whose outer shells have been blasted away in violent explosions at the end of their lives. Compressed tightly by gravity, they are composed almost entirely of neutrons, sub-atomic particles with no electric charge that form part of atoms.
One teaspoonful of material from a neutron star would weigh a billion tonnes. The newly identified neutron star has a unique carbon atmosphere just four inches thick.
Britain’s first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, is believed to have observed the supernova that spawned it in 1680. Astronomers studied the supernova using the Chandra X-ray space telescope launched by the American space agency Nasa in 1999.
Every other neutron star identified by scientists has been much older. It is hoped the object will reveal more clues about the role exploding stars play in building the Universe. Heavy elements flung out into space by supernovae end up in the rocks of planets such as the Earth. Even the human body is largely composed of stardust.
Professor Craig Heinke, from the University of Alberta in Canada, who co-led the new research published in the journal Nature, said: ‘The discovery helps us understand how neutron stars are born in violent supernova explosions.
‘This neutron star was born so hot that nuclear fusion happened on its surface, producing a carbon atmosphere just 10 centimetres thick.’
Source : The Daily Mail