Astronomers Find Mysterious "Dead Star" in a Dwarf Galaxy

Scientists have finally found a mysterious object hidden within a cloud of gas and dust from a supernova, located about 200,000 light-years away. In other news, I struggle to find my apartment keys in my bag most mornings.

Pictures created from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other ground and space-based telescopes reveal the first-ever isolated neutron star found beyond the Milky Way. The object, dubbed p1, has been notoriously difficult to comprehend, as scientists have struggled to determine what and where exactly it is. There was confusion about whether or not p1 was actually within the supernova remnant or behind it, and it turns out the former is true. By using the ESO’s MUSE instrument, researchers were able to locate a ring of oxygen and neon circling around p1 like a bullseye.

The team’s research has been published in 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 fellow Liz Bartlett, the study’s co-author, says in a statement. “We think that this could open up new channels of discovery and study for these elusive stellar remains.”

P1 tucked within the Small Magellanic CloudESO/NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/F. Vogt et al.

Isolated neutron stars are fast-rotating objects that form when a star eventually dies. They give off x-ray emissions that instruments like MUSE can detect, which in turn leads to discoveries like this one. In this case, p1 was hiding in the stellar graveyard of a supernova that occurred 2,000 years ago. This final resting place — technically called the supernova remnant — is named 1E 0102.2–7219, tucked away in a dwarf galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud. The SMC is located about 199,000 light-years away.

Here’s p1 up-close again in a different view:

P1ESO/F. Vogt et al.

These photos are a good reminder that the vacuum of space is cold, merciless, and filled with death. But at least it all looks nice in pictures.

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