Science

Astronomers Release Stunning Images from One of Our Closest Galactic Neighbors

Astronomers have released stunning new images from one our closest galactic neighbors, the Small Magellanic Cloud—a dwarf galaxy located ‘just’ 200,000 light years from Earth.

The pictures—which were taken using the MUSE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, as well as others—have helped researchers to identify an elusive object known as an isolated neutron star outside our own galaxy for the first time.

eso1810aAn isolated neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud ESO/NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/F. Vogt et al.

This neutron star is essentially a stellar corpse buried among clouds of gas left over from a 2,000-year-old supernova—the titanic explosion that occurs at the end of a massive star’s life.

Recommended Slideshows

These stars are typically just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) across yet weigh more than our Sun because they are so dense. They are thought to be abundant across the Universe, although they are very difficult to find because they only emit light at X-ray wavelengths.

eso1008bWide field image, based on data from Digitized Sky Survey 2, shows the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy. ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

The images show a spectacular ring of gas surrounding the isolated neutron star in a star system known as 1E 0102.2-7219.

The scientists, led by ESO fellow Frédéric Vogt, noticed that this ring was centered on a well-known X-ray source which had long puzzled astronomers. Upon further examination with the Chandra X-ray Observatory they were able to identify the object at the center as an isolated neutron star. The fact that the star was identified with the help of optical observations is particularly exciting, the astronomers said.

eso1810bHubble view of the surroundings of a hidden neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

“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,” Vogt said in a statement.

eso1810dX-ray view of the surroundings of a hidden neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud. ESO/NASA

~Source reference~