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Astronomy and astrophysics

Astronomers might have spotted the long-sought debris of a famous stellar explosion.

Thirty-four years after one of astronomy’s biggest booms, astronomers have new evidence for something they’ve been looking for ever since.

In February 1987, astronomers detected the explosion of a star just 51,400 parsecs from Earth — the closest supernova in 4 centuries. Scientists thought they would spot the resulting cosmic cinder, an ultra-dense body known as a neutron star that the explosion was expected to leave behind.

But the neutron star from Supernova 1987A has eluded detection. In 2019, astronomers using a radio telescope in Chile found a hot blob of material that could have been the super-heated surroundings of the long-sought star.

Now, Emanuele Greco at the University of Palermo in Italy and his colleagues have examined observations of X-ray emissions from the supernova that the Chandra and NuSTAR space telescopes made between 2012 and 2014. The scientists compared those data with a computer simulation that described how the supernova’s light would evolve over time. The team’s analysis shows that the X-rays probably come from winds blowing off a neutron star at the supernova’s heart.

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