The universe we don’t know: Scientists watched cold and hot winds blow up a neutron star

The recent explosion of an X-ray binary known as Swift J1858 surprised astronomers

Using the most powerful telescopes on Earth and in space, A team of astronomers has detected for the first time hot, warm and cold winds blowing from a neutron star as it consumes matter from a nearby star.. This discovery provides new insight into the behavior of some of the most extreme things in the universe.

Low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXBs) are systems that contain either a neutron star or a black hole.. They are powered by material that has separated from a nearby star, a process known as accretion. Most of the buildup occurs during violent eruptions where the systems are dramatically illuminated. At the same time, some of the rising material is being pushed into space in the form of disc winds and jets. The most common signs of material emerging from astronomical objects are associated with “hot” gas. Despite this, only ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ gas winds have so far been observed in transient X-ray binaries.

In this new studya team of researchers from eleven countries, led by the University of Southampton, He studied the last burst of an X-ray binary known as Swift J1858. They used a range of telescopes, including the European Space Agency’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the European Space Agency’s XMM Newton satellite, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC).

The results are published in the journal naturethey came Continuous signals of warm winds at ultraviolet wavelengths occur simultaneously with signals of cold winds at optical wavelengths. This is the first time that winds from such a system have been seen in different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.

07-28-2021 Brief flashes of X-rays that correspond to the reflection of flares from the other side of the disk, curved around the black hole due to the strong gravitational field.  (Dan Wilkins)
07-28-2021 Brief flashes of X-rays that correspond to the reflection of flares from the other side of the disk, curved around the black hole due to the strong gravitational field. (Dan Wilkins)

Lead author, astronomer Noel Castro Segura, Of the University of Southampton, he said: “Eruptions like this are rare, and each one is unique. They’re usually very obscured by interstellar dust, which makes them really difficult to monitor. Swift J1858 was special, because although it is located on the other side of our galaxy, the opacity was small enough to allow a full multi-wavelength study.” Only one other system, the X-ray black hole system, V404 Cyg, showed similar properties. “Our attempt to perform the same experiment on this system was unsuccessful, because the volcanic eruption ended before we could get ground- and space-based telescopes to monitor it simultaneously,” said co-author Hernandez Santistiban of the University of St Andrews. .

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Swift J1858 is a recently discovered transient X-ray event that shows extreme contrast across the electromagnetic spectrum, presenting a unique opportunity. “All the astronomers in the field were so incredibly excited, that we combined our efforts to cover the full range, From radio to X-rays using the most modern observatories on Earth and in space,” Castro Segura continued.

co-author Natalie DeGeneres of the University of Amsterdam, he added: “Nutron stars have an immense gravitational force that allows them to swallow gas from other stars. However, stellar cannibals are chaotic eaters, and much of the gas that neutron stars attract toward them is not consumed, but rather ejected into space at high speed. This behavior has a significant impact on both the neutron star itself and its immediate surroundings. In this article we report a new discovery that provides key insights into the chaotic eating patterns of cosmic cookie monsters.”

A star cluster in which millions of suns explode (NASA)
A star cluster in which millions of suns explode (NASA)

This time we had cosmic luck on our part, being able to coordinate ten telescopes and point them at J1858., all while it was fully active. This allows us to get more information, as we can use different techniques at different wavelengths, said Dr. Hernández Santistiban. DeGeneres added: “Designing an ambitious observation campaign, built on the best telescopes on Earth and in space, has been a major challenge. So, It is very exciting that all this work has paid off and allowed us to make a major discovery that would not have been possible otherwise.“.

In addition to detecting different types of winds, The team was able to study the time evolution of the gas out. They found that warm winds were not affected by strong differences in the brightness of the system. The absence of such a response was previously an uncertain theoretical prediction based on complex simulations. “In this investigation, we combine the unique capabilities of HST with the best ground-based telescopes, such as the VLT and GTC, to obtain a complete picture of the system’s gas dynamics, from the near-infrared to the ultraviolet. This has allowed us to reveal for the first time the nature The true nature of these powerful flows,” said Dr. Castro Segura.

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“The new insights provided by our results are key to understanding how these organisms interact with their environment. By dumping energy and matter into the galaxy, they contribute to the formation of new generations of stars and to the evolution of the galaxy itself,” concluded Dr. Castro Segura. The study was funded by grants from agencies such as the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and NASA, among others.

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Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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