In a study appearing in The Astrophysical Journal, with first author P. Cigan, researchers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have, for the first time, detected hints of a neutron star in the heart of the supernova 1987a remnant.
This 33-year-old expanding nebula is still small and dense, and it’s hard to see anything through the gas and dust that makes up this beautiful structure. When the supernova went off, neutrinos were detected, indicating that the remnant in the supernova was most likely a neutron star. Despite many attempts to observe that young, hot neutron star, it hadn’t been seen, and some astronomers were starting to think that maybe something caused that “should be a neutron star” remnant to collapse into a black hole.
It turns out we weren’t patient enough. In these new images from ALMA, a blob of light shines indistinctly through the nebula in a way that is consistent with a young neutron star heating material in the remnant. According to Dany Page: In spite of the supreme complexity of a supernova explosion and the extreme conditions reigning in the interior of a neutron star, the detection of a warm blob of dust is a confirmation of several predictions.
It will be several more years, or maybe even decades, before the remnant expands and thins enough that we can get a good look at this object, but for now, spotting a warm blob in the SN1987a nebula is enough to make us all feel that the universe is behaving according to plan.
“High Angular Resolution ALMA Images of Dust and Molecules in the SN 1987A Ejecta,” P. Cigan et al., 2019 Nov. 19, Astrophysical Journal (Preprint on arxiv.org)