SXP 1062: Celestial bauble intrigues aastronomers
Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton have been combined to discover a young pulsar in the remains of a supernova located in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), a small satellite galaxy to the Milky Way. This would be the first definite time a pulsar, a spinning, ultra-dense star, has been found in a supernova remnant in the SMC.
In this composite image, X-rays from Chandra and XMM-Newton have been colored blue and optical data from CTIO in Chile are colored red and green. The pulsar, known as SXP 1062, is the bright white source located on the right-hand side of the image in the middle of the diffuse blue emission inside a red shell.
The diffuse X-rays and optical shell are both evidence for a supernova remnant surrounding the pulsar. The optical data also displays spectacular formations of gas and dust in a star-forming region on the left side of the image. A comparison of the Chandra image with optical images shows that the pulsar has a hot, massive companion.
SXP 1062 is rotating unusually slowly - about once every 18 minutes. (In contrast, some pulsars are found to revolve multiple times per second, including most newly born pulsars.) This relatively leisurely pace of SXP 1062 makes it one of the slowest rotating X-ray pulsars in the SMC.
The supernova remnant around SXP 1062 is between 10,000 and 40,000 years old. This means that the pulsar is very young, since it was presumably formed in the same explosion that produced the supernova remnant. Assuming that it was born with rapid spin, it is a mystery why SXP 1062 has been able to slow down by so much, so quickly.