The European Space Agency’s space observatory has managed to capture a truly rare stellar event. In August of 2017, they witnessed the moment that a swollen red giant star revived the core of a long dead neutron star. Trapped together in a binary orbit, the gaseous material of the red giant managed to reignite the core of its slow-spinning companion, once more bringing it to life.
This pair of stars is fairly unique amongst others that have been discovered. While there are many paired stars throughout the Universe, only ten of this type (a red giant and neutron stars) have been spotted so far. Even then, this neutron star itself is unique in the fact that it only completes a rotation once every two hours. Typically, other neutron stars spin many times per second.
Even odder is the fact that the neutron star also exhibits a strong magnetic field. According to Enrico Bozzo, lead author of the paper and professor at the University of Geneva, the magnetic field of a neutron star is thought to fade over time. This indicates that perhaps the magnetic field of a neutron star doesn’t decay substantially over time, or that perhaps the neutron star actually formed later in the history of the binary system. While neutron stars are traditionally the end-result of a massive star going supernova, it’s possible that this neutron star is the result of white dwarf-star feeding off the red giant over a long period of time.
However the two stars were formed, this behavior is something that the European Space Agency hasn’t seen in the last 15 years of observation with their space-based telescope. The team plans to continue monitoring the pair of stars to determine whether matter from the red giant continues to increase activity in the neutron star, or if it’s reached peak-activity. Either way, it’s an exciting time for science.
Images: WikiMedia, ESA