Tiny stellar 'corpses' have been caught blasting surprisingly powerful X-rays and gamma rays across our galaxy by ESAís gamma-ray observatory Integral.
This discovery links these objects to the most magnetically active bodies in the Universe and forces scientists to reconsider just how dead such stellar corpses really are.
Known as anomalous X-ray pulsars (AXPs), the stellar corpses were first spotted pulsing low-energy X-rays into space during the 1970s by the Uhuru X-ray satellite. AXPs are extremely rare with only seven known to exist. The X-rays were first thought to be produced by matter falling from a companion star onto the AXP.
An alternative was that each AXP is the spinning core of a dead star, known as a neutron star, sweeping beams of energy through space like a cosmic lighthouse. When these beams cross Earthís line of sight, the AXP blinks on and off.
However, this scenario required the AXPís magnetic field to be a thousand million times stronger than the strongest steady magnetic field achievable in a laboratory on Earth. Nevertheless, the Integral observations show that the magnetic solution is correct.