News

New neutron star discovered in The Frying Pan


26 August 2009

Neutron stars are almost the proverbial diamond in the sky. To date, less than 2 000 have been detected in our galaxy, which is filled with billions of 'normal' stars.

The Frying Pan - a round supernova remnant with a 'handle' made by the newly discovered neutron star as it speeds out. Image taken by the University of Sydney's Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope.
The Frying Pan - a round supernova remnant with a 'handle' made by the newly discovered neutron star as it speeds out. Image taken by the University of Sydney's Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope.

Dr Stephen Ng, a postdoctoral fellow in the Sydney Institute for Astronomy (SIfA) at the University of Sydney, and his team have discovered an extremely rare neutron star or pulsar - one caught in the act of bursting out of a supernova remnant called The Frying Pan.

The neutron star has left behind a long straight trail or 'handle', which comes out of the round supernova remnant (which looks like a 'pan'). The newly discovered star is located right at the tip of the handle of The Frying Pan.

The neutron star's long and linear trail is extremely rare and this is the only known example that connects all the way back to the supernova shell. The Frying Pan reveals for the first time the complete history of such a system and confirms that the neutron star was created in the supernova explosion.

The supernova remnant, formally known as G315.9-0.0, is a shell of glowing gas left over from a stellar explosion that occurred approximately 100 000 years ago. The newly discovered neutron star is an extremely dense, very compact star that has the mass of the sun yet is smaller than the city of Sydney.

The shell and the 'handle' leave behind one of the longest trails ever discovered in radio astronomy, resulting in a highly unusual image which astronomers have nicknamed The Frying Pan.

Dr Ng says it's the neutron star's incredible velocity that has made it a trailblazer. "It could travel from Sydney to Melbourne in one second."

The newly discovered neutron star, marked with a cross, is at the tip of the Frying Pan's handle. Image taken by the CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array.
The newly discovered neutron star, marked with a cross, is at the tip of the Frying Pan's handle. Image taken by the CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array.

The Frying Pan is approximately 24 000 light years away and the neutron star's radio emission is so weak that detection is challenging. Ng's team, which includes Dr Fernando Camilo from Columbia University in New York and University of Sydney colleague Professor Bryan Gaensler, have only been able to observe this new neutron star at the tip of the frying pan's handle using one of the world's most powerful facilities, the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in NSW.

"The next step will be to understand exactly why the trail stays so straight and thin over a large distance," says Dr Ng.

The paper reporting this work, Out of the Frying Pan; A Young Pulsar with a Long Radio Trail Emerging from SNR G315.9-0.0 is to be published in August 2009 in The Astrophysical Journal (Letters).

The paper's authors are Dr F Camilo, Columbia University, New York, USA; Dr C-Y Ng and Professor Bryan Gaensler, Sydney Institute for Astronomy, School of Physics, The University of Sydney, Australia; Dr Scott Ransom, US National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Dr Shami Chatterjee, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA; Dr John Reynolds and Mr John Sarkissian, ATNF-CSIRO Parkes Observatory, Parkes, NSW, Australia.


Contact: Katynna Gill

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