You are here

Dead Stars

March 19, 2023

Vulpecula, the fox, doesn’t have a lot of impressive stars. But it sure has a lot of impressive dead ones. That’s where astronomers discovered the first neutron star — which also happened to be the first pulsar. And a few years ago, it’s where they discovered the first fast radio burst in our home galaxy — an object that’s also a neutron star.

A neutron star is the corpse of a massive star that exploded as a supernova. The star’s core collapsed to just a few miles across, but it’s more massive than the Sun.

The first neutron star was discovered in Vulpecula in 1967. It was emitting regular “pulses” of radio waves as it spun on its axis. So it was called a pulsar. Some pulsars steal gas from normal companion stars, which makes them spin up to hundreds of times per second. The first of those was discovered in Vulpecula as well.

And in 2020, another neutron star there suddenly produced short bursts of radio waves that didn’t sync up with how fast it spins — the first sighting of such an event in the Milky Way.

A recent study says it was a result of an outburst of charged particles. The star generates an extremely powerful magnetic field. A disruption in the field likely generated the “volcano” of particles. That slowed the star’s rotation by a tiny bit, producing the radio bursts — and another interesting “dead” star in Vulpecula.

The fox is in the northeast at first light, to the right of Cygnus, the swan.

Script by Damond Benningfield

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.