Magnetar discovered close to supernova remnant Kesteven 79

September 1, 2014
Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/ Ping Zhou, Nanjing University, China

(Phys.org) —Massive stars end their lives with a bang, exploding as supernovas and releasing massive amounts of energy and matter. What remains of the star is a small and extremely dense remnant: a neutron star or a black hole.

Neutron stars come in several flavours, depending on properties such as their ages, the strength of the magnetic field concealed beneath their surface, or the presence of other stars nearby. Some of the energetic processes taking place around neutron stars can be explored with X-ray telescopes, like ESA's XMM-Newton.

This image depicts two very different that were observed in the same patch of the sky with XMM-Newton. The green and pink bubble dominating the image is Kesteven 79, the remnant of a located about 23,000 light-years away from us.

From the properties of the hot gas in Kesteven 79 and from its size, astronomers estimate that it is between 5000 and 7000 years old. Taking account of the time needed for light to travel to Earth, this means that the supernova that created it must have exploded almost 30,000 years ago. The explosion left behind a  a young neutron star with a weak magnetic field, which can be seen as the blue spot at the centre of Kesteven 79.

Beneath it, a blue splotch indicates an entirely different beast: a neutron star boasting an extremely strong magnetic field, known as a magnetar. Astronomers discovered this magnetar, named 3XMM J185246.6+003317, in 2013 by looking at images that had been taken in 2008 and 2009. After the discovery, they looked at previous images of the same patch of the sky, taken before 2008, but did not find any trace of the magnetar. This suggests that the detection corresponded to an outburst of X-rays released by the magnetar, likely caused by a dramatic change in the structure of its .

While the neutron star in the supernova remnant is relatively young, the magnetar is likely a million years old; the age difference means that it is very unlikely that the magnetar arose from the explosion that created Kesteven 79, but must have formed much earlier.

This false-colour image is a composite of 15 observations performed between 2004 and 2009 with the EPIC MOS camera on board XMM-Newton. The image combines data collected at energies from 0.3 to 1.2 keV (shown in red), 1.2 to 2 keV (shown in green) and 2 to 7 keV (shown in blue).

Explore further: A hidden population of exotic neutron stars

Related Stories

A hidden population of exotic neutron stars

May 23, 2013

(Phys.org) —Magnetars – the dense remains of dead stars that erupt sporadically with bursts of high-energy radiation - are some of the most extreme objects known in the Universe. A major campaign using NASA's Chandra ...

Magnetar formation mystery solved?

May 14, 2014

Magnetars are the super-dense remnants of supernova explosions. They are the strongest magnets known in the Universe—millions of times more powerful than the strongest magnets on Earth. A team of astronomers using ESO's ...

Image: Pulsar encased in a supernova bubble

June 2, 2014

(Phys.org) —Massive stars end their lives with a bang: exploding as spectacular supernovas, they release huge amounts of mass and energy into space. These explosions sweep up any surrounding material, creating bubble remnants ...

Recommended for you

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Comet Hitchhiker would take tour of small bodies

September 2, 2015

Catching a ride from one solar system body to another isn't easy. You have to figure out how to land your spacecraft safely and then get it on its way to the next destination. The landing part is especially tricky for asteroids ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.