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Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
X-ray Astronomy Field Guide
Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Questions and Answers
Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Chandra Images
Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Animations & Video: Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
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Click for high-resolution animation
1. A Flare for the Dramatic
QuicktimeMPEG Never let it be said that stars don't have style: when a massive star comes to the end of its life it doesn't quietly burn out like a dying candle. Instead, it goes out with a bang, or rather an explosion that outshines almost everything else in the Universe! This explosion is called a supernova, and when this happens, the star is torn apart, throwing material into space. But something is left behind - a 'neutron star' - the remaining core of a massive star once it has exploded.

This picture might look like a jawbreaker that's been dipped in dental floss, but it actually shows an artist's impression of a very exotic type of neutron star called a "magnetar".

Magnetars are some of the most extreme objects known in the Universe. They are a very small and ultra-compact type of neutron star that erupt randomly with bursts of powerful high-energy flares. These stars were given their name because they are very strong magnets. You've probably played with magnets in school. Each magnets is surrounded by an invisible force field, called a "magnetic field".

Magnetars have notoriously strong magnetic fields - the strongest in the entire Universe, in fact! Well, except for this one. This picture shows "SGR 0418", a magnetar that doesn't fit the mould. It has a much weaker magnetic field on its surface than any other star of its kind. What makes this really puzzling is that it raises the question: where does the energy come from to power its dramatic high-energy flares? It is thought to come from the strong magnetic field. But this theory doesn't work for SGR 0418! SGR 0418 appears to be an oddity amongst oddities! Astronomers are puzzled but think that there is a much stronger magnetic field underneath the surface of SGR 0418.
[Runtime: 02:25]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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2. The Mysterious Afterlife of Stellar
QuicktimeMPEG Neutron stars are the ultra-dense cores left behind after a massive star reaches the end of its life and explodes. The star's outer layers are blasted away in the explosion, but material at the centre of the star collapses in on itself. This forming a tightly packed ball of material and what we end up with is the densest (meaning 'most tightly packed') object known in the entire Universe outside of a black hole: a neutron star!

This new space picture shows a group of stars called a globular cluster. These are some of the oldest objects in space - almost as old as the Universe itself! This means many of the stars within have already lived their lives. The most massive have long since exploded, leaving behind several neutron stars.

Using a neutron star within this cluster, along with several others, astronomers have worked out the relationship between the stars' mass (how much material they have) and how big they are.

The new data shows that an average neutron star, with the same mass as around one and a half of our Sun's, would be around 12 km across. That's about the size of a town! With all this material packed down into such a small space, neutron stars are unbelievably dense objects. The pressure at their centers is over ten trillion trillion times the pressure required to form diamonds inside the Earth.
[Runtime: 01:58]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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3. Did Somebody Call the Ghostbusters?
QuicktimeMPEG Millions of people around the world believe in ghosts, many of them even claim to have seen one. Well, now you can count yourself among them! This spooky new image shows a massive star in its afterlife. You could say it's a 'ghost star'.

A large star comes to the end of its life when it runs out of fuel. At this point the star's outer layers are blown away in a powerful explosion, and the core collapses in on itself. While the cast off outer layers can create some fascinating and colorful patterns, it's at the core that things get really interesting. This haunting space picture shows the dense, leftover core of a massive star after it has gone through its dramatic end-of-life explosion.

While the outer layers are blown away, the core collapses in on itself. Enough material to make a Sun like ours (and then some!) is squashed into an area much smaller than an average city! The core then begins its afterlife as a new type of star.

In this picture the core has been reborn as a 'pulsar'. This is a star that spins around extremely quickly - turning even faster than a helicopter rotor! As it whips round, the pulsars spews out jets of material, can you see one stretching upwards in this picture?
[Runtime: 01:47]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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4. Tour of SGR 0418+5729
QuicktimeMPEG A magnetar is a type of neutron star that occasionally generates bursts of X-rays. They usually have a very strong magnetic field on their surface, ten to a thousand times stronger than for an average neutron star. Now, astronomers have spotted a magnetar, called SGR 0418, with a much lower magnetic field on its surface. Data from Chandra and several other X-ray observatories was used to make this measurement. The magnetar is seen as the pink source in the middle of this image combining Chandra data with optical and infrared data. SGR 0418 is located in our galaxy about 6,500 light years from Earth. In this artist's impression we see a close-up view of SGR 0418, with a weak magnetic field on the surface and a much stronger magnetic field in the interior. These results suggest that magnetars might be much more common than previously thought. They also tell us about the massive stars and supernova explosions that create magnetars.
[Runtime: 01:28]
(NASA/CXC/J. DePasquale)

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5. Tour of 47 Tucanae
QuicktimeMPEG Neutron stars are the ultra-dense cores that are often left behind after massive stars run out of fuel and collapse. In fact, these compact objects, which are less than 10 miles in diameter, contain the densest matter known in the Universe outside of a black hole. New results from Chandra and other X-ray telescopes are giving scientists information about important properties of neutron stars. By studying eight neutron stars, a group of researchers have come up with the one of the most reliable determinations yet of the relation between the radius of a neutron star and its mass. They looked at the neutron stars in double, or binary, systems where they are in orbit with stars like our Sun. One of these systems is known as X7 and is found in the globular cluster 47 Tucanae. Because the mass and radius of a neutron star is directly related to interactions between the particles in the interior of the star, the latest results give scientists new information about the inner workings of neutron stars.
[Runtime: 01:12]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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6. Tour of Vela Pulsar
QuicktimeMPEG Unlike with some Hollywood films, a sequel of a movie from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is better than the first. The star of this Chandra movie is the Vela pulsar, a neutron star that was formed when a massive star collapsed. The Vela pulsar is about 1,000 light years from Earth, spans about 12 miles in diameter, and makes a complete rotation in 89 milliseconds, which is faster than a helicopter rotor. As the pulsar whips around, it spews out a jet of charged particles that race out along the pulsar's rotation axis at about 70% the speed of light. The new Chandra data, which were obtained from June to September 2010, suggest that the jet may be slowly wobbling, or precessing, as it spins. The first Chandra movie of Vela came out in 2003, but its shorter and unevenly spaced exposures did not provide clear evidence for precession of the pulsar. If the Vela saga becomes a trilogy, maybe more secrets of this exotic object will be revealed.
[Runtime: 01.09]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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7. Vela Pulsar Jet Timelapse
QuicktimeMPEG The Chandra data set contains 7 images obtained between June and September 2010, and suggests that the pulsar may be slowly wobbling, or precessing, as it spins. The shape and the motion of the Vela jet look strikingly like a rotating helix, a shape that is naturally explained by precession, as shown in this animation. If the evidence for precession of the Vela pulsar is confirmed, it would be the first time that a jet from a neutron star has been found to be wobbling, or precessing, in this way.
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(NASA/CXC/Univ of Toronto/M.Durant et al)

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8. Tour of IGR J11014-6103
QuicktimeMPEG Has the speediest pulsar been found? That's the question that astronomers are asking after three different telescopes looked at the pulsar known as IGR J11014-6103. This pulsar was found racing away from a supernova remnant located about 30,000 light years from Earth. An image from the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite shows a glowing debris field in X-rays. This is the remains of a massive star that exploded thousands of years before. Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers were able to focus their attention on a small, comet-shaped X-ray source outside the boundary of this supernova remnant. It appears that this object, thought to be a rapidly spinning, incredibly dense star - which astronomers call a "pulsar" -- was ejected during the supernova explosion. Researchers calculate that this pulsar may be dashing away from the supernova at speeds of about 6 million miles per hour. If this result is confirmed, it would make this pulsar the fastest ever seen.
[Runtime: 01:08]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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9. Tour of G350.1-0.3
QuicktimeMPEG G350.1+0.3 is a young and exceptionally bright supernova remnant located nearly 15,000 light years from Earth toward the center of the Milky Way. While many supernova remnants are nearly circular, G350.1+0.3 has a strikingly unusual appearance. X-rays from Chandra and infrared data from Spitzer outline this bizarre shape, which astronomers think comes from the stellar debris field expanding into a nearby cloud of cold gas. With an age of between 600 and 1,200 years old, G350.1+0.3 is in the same time frame as other famous supernovas that formed the Crab and SN 1006 supernova remnants. However, it is unlikely that anyone on Earth would have seen the explosion because too much gas and dust lies along our line of sight to the remnant, blocking the view.
[Runtime: 00:59]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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10. Tour of the Crab
QuicktimeMPEG The Crab Nebula is one of the brightest sources of high-energy radiation in the sky. Little wonder - it's the expanding remains of an exploded star, a supernova seen in 1054. Scientists have used virtually every telescope at their disposal, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, to study the Crab. The supernova left behind a magnetized neutron star - a pulsar. It's about the size of Washington DC, but it spins 30 times a second. Each rotation sweeps a lighthouse-like beam past us, creating a pulse of electromagnetic energy detectable across the spectrum.

Here's what the sky looks like in high-energy gamma rays. The pulsar in the Crab Nebula is among the brightest sources. Recently, NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Observatory and Italy's AGILE Satellite detected strong gamma-ray flares from the Crab, including a series of "superflares" in April 2011. To help pinpoint the location of these flares, astronomers enlisted Chandra.

With its keen X-ray eyes, Chandra saw lots of activity, but none of it seems correlated with the superflare. This hints that whatever is causing the flares is happening with about a third of a light year from the pulsar. And rapid changes in the rise and fall of gamma rays imply that the emission region is very small, comparable in size to our Solar System.

The Chandra observations will likely help scientists to home in on an explanation of the gamma-ray flares one day. The Chandra data provide strong constraints on the behavior, at relatively low energies, of the particles that have been accelerated to produce the gamma-ray flares. Even after a thousand years, the heart of this shattered star still offers scientists glimpses of staggering energies and cutting edge science.
[Runtime: 02:14]
(NASA/CXC/MSFC/M.Weisskopf et al & A.Hobart)

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