Feeds

Astronomers spy hot spots on neutron stars

No, not that kind of hot spot...

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

European astronomers have seen, for the first time, rotating hotspots on the surfaces of three (relatively) nearby neutron stars. The discovery sheds new light on the thermal geography of these stars - the incredibly hot and dense remnants of supernova explosions.

The pictures, taken with the XMM-Newton space telescope, reveal surface features ranging from the size of a football field to that of a golf course, on bodies hundreds, even thousands of light-years away.

An X-ray image of the neutron star PSR B0656-14. Image: ESA

Neutron stars are what you get when a star-proper explodes in a type II supernova. As the core of a massive star collapses, the pull of gravity is sufficiently strong to force protons and electrons to combine and form neutrons. Typically, a neutron star will have the mass of one and a half suns compressed into a spherical volume just 10-15km in diameter.

As well as being incredibly dense, they rotate very fast, and are blindingly hot - cooling down over hundreds of thousands of years to reach a just-scorching million or so degrees.

Using the XMM-Newton, astronomers divided the surface of each of the three target stars into ten co-called wedges, and measured the temperature at the surface of each wedge. This way, they could track the hot spot as the star rotated.

Scientists have predicted the existence of these hot spots - regions where the electromagnetic energy emitted by the star is funneled back down to the surface. Theorists hypothesized that the influx of energy would reheat a local area on the surface so that it was much hotter than its cooling surroundings.

The research team suspect that the hot spots are linked to polar regions, and are in some way similar to the Aurorae on planets with magnetic fields. In both cases, the team think the phenomenon is caused by charged particles being trapped in magnetic field lines and carried towards the surface.

Patrizia Caraveo, of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (IASF) in Italy commented: "This result is a first, and a key to understand the internal structure, the dominant role of the magnetic field treading the star interior and its magnetosphere, and the complex phenomenology of neutron stars."

The researchers are still trying to account for the difference in size of the hot regions on each of the stars. ®

Related stories

Swift blasts off on dying star mission
X-ray fireworks could signal supernovae
Andromeda galaxy home to ten black holes

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.