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.
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.
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.
The scientists, led by ESO fellow Frédéric Vogt, noticed that this ring was centered on a well-known X-ray
“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.