The Youngest Known Pulsar

in GEMSlast month

Astronomers gathered evidence of a neutron star remaining after the supernova SN 1987A. If they are right it makes it the youngest known pulsar we know of.


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Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

Back in 1987 on the 24th of February astronomers discovered a supernova that exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud at a distance of roughly 170,000 light-years away from Earth. It was a big deal. The first supernova visible by the naked eye after 400 years even if it didn’t explode in the Milky Way.

Ever since then, scientists are trying to find the cinders of the original star in the remains of the supernova. A neutron star. While it should be there all our work was for nothing. Until now.

Astronomers weren’t sure why they weren’t succeeding though there are several reasons why it certainly isn’t easy. The center of SN 1987A remains is full of gases and dust making it hard to search there. At the same time, we don’t know the exact details of the process during which neutron stars are created after a supernova explodes.

If the neutron star is a pulsar, there is a chance that the pulsar needs some time to “start its engine”. Another possibility is the supernova resulted in the creation of a black hole that is yet to make itself known.

Emanuele Greco from the University of Palermo and his team put together older data coming from the American space x-ray observatory Chandra, so far unpublished data from another space x-ray observatory NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array), and data from the terrestrial radio-telescope array ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) in Chile.

When processing this data they used advanced simulations that allowed them to understand how the material in the SN 1987A supernova’s area absorbs x-ray radiation of different energies. That allows them to more precisely interpret the observed x-ray spectrum and derive how the spectrum would look without the effects of the surrounding materials from the supernova remains.

The results of the research is a set of evidence for the existence of a neutron star at the remains of the SN 1987A supernova. At the same time, they found that most likely it is a pulsar though this finding is a certainty.

But if they are right and it really is a pulsar youngling that means we have a unique opportunity to observe and study in great detail the youngest known pulsar ever.

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