Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 1988 November 28 - A Lonely Neutron Star
Explanation: How massive can a star get without imploding into a black hole? These limits are being tested by the discovery of a lone neutron star in space. Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope have been combined with previous observations by the X-ray ROSAT observatory and ultraviolet EUVE observatory for the isolated star at the location of the arrow. Astronomers are able to directly infer the star's size from measurements of its unblended brightness, temperature, and an upper limit on the distance. Assuming that the object is a neutron star of typical mass, some previous theories of neutron star structure would have predicted an implosion that would have created a black hole. That this neutron star even exists therefore allows a window to the extreme conditions that exist in the interiors of neutron stars.
APOD: 1998 April 25 - Supernova Remnant and Neutron Star
Explanation: A massive star ends life as a supernova, blasting its outer layers back to interstellar space. The spectacular death explosion is initiated by the collapse of what has become an impossibly dense stellar core. However, this core is not necessarily destroyed. Instead, it may be transformed into an exotic object with the density of an atomic nucleus but more total mass than the sun - a neutron star. A neutron star is hard to detect directly because it is small (roughly 10 miles in diameter) and therefore dim, but newly formed in this violent crucible it is intensely hot, glowing in X-rays. These X-ray images from the orbiting ROSAT observatory may offer a premier view of such a recently formed neutron stars' X-ray glow. Pictured is the supernova remnant Puppis A, one of the brightest sources in the X-ray sky, with shocked gas clouds still expanding and radiating X-rays. In the inset close-up view, a faint pinpoint source of X-rays is visible which is most likely the young neutron star, kicked out by the asymmetric explosion and moving away from the site of the original supernova at about 600 miles per second.
APOD: 1998 July 23 - X Ray Pulsar
Explanation: This dramatic artist's vision shows a city-sized neutron star centred in a disk of hot plasma drawn from its enfeebled red companion star. Ravenously accreting material from the disk, the neutron star spins faster and faster emitting powerful particle beams and pulses of X-rays as it rotates 400 times a second. Could such a bizarre and inhospitable star system really exist in our Universe? Based on data from the orbiting Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite, research teams have recently announced a discovery which fits this exotic scenario well - a "millisecond" X-ray pulsar. The newly detected celestial X-ray beacon has the unassuming catalog designation of SAX J1808.4-3658 and is located a comforting 12,000 light years away in the constellation Sagittarius. Its X-ray pulses offer evidence of rapid, accretion powered rotation and provide a much sought after connection between known types of radio and X-ray pulsars and the evolution and ultimate demise of binary star systems.
APOD: 2005 May 15 - On the Origin of Gold
Explanation: Where did the gold in your jewelry originate? No one is completely sure. The relative average abundance in our Solar System appears higher than can be made in the early universe, in stars, and even in typical supernova explosions. Some astronomers now suggest that neutron-rich heavy elements such as gold might be most easily made in rare neutron-rich explosions such as the collision of neutron stars. Pictured above is a computer-animated frame depicting two neutron stars spiraling in toward each other, just before they collide. Since neutron star collisions are also suggested as the origin of short duration gamma-ray bursts, it is possible that you already own a souvenir from one of the most powerful explosions in the universe.
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