Atypical infrared emission from the nearby neutron star dubbed as RX J0806.4-4123 has been detected by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The discovery could suggest new never-before-seen features in a neutron star as there might be a disk of material surrounding the space object or an energetic wind emerging off RX J0806.4-4123 and hitting the gas within the interstellar space the neutron star is passing through.
“RX J0806.4-4123 belongs to a group of seven nearby X-ray pulsars, known as the Magnificent Seven, that are hotter than they ought to be considering their ages and available energy reservoir provided by the loss of rotation energy,” explained Dr. Bettina Posselt from the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University, in the US.
“We observed an extended area of infrared emissions around RX J0806.4-4123, the total size of which translates into about 200 AU (astronomical units) at the assumed distance of the pulsar,” the scientist added.
Atypical infrared emission from nearby neutron star identified by Hubble revealed some never-before-seen features
The RX J0806.4-4123 neutron star is the first of its kind in which an extended emission has been observed only in the infrared spectrum. According to Dr. Posselt and co-worker, there might be only two possibilities that could explain this phenomenon. The first one is the presence of a disk of material, most likely dust, while the second hypothesis says that RX J0806.4-4123 might be a “pulsar wind nebula.”
“One theory is that there could be what is known as a ‘fallback disk’ of material that coalesced around the neutron star after the supernova. Such a disk would be composed of matter from the massive progenitor star. Its subsequent interaction with the neutron star could have heated the pulsar and slowed its rotation,” said Dr. Posselt.
On the other hand, “a pulsar wind nebula would require that the neutron star exhibits a pulsar wind,” the scientist added. “A pulsar wind can be produced when particles are accelerated in the electric field that is produced by the fast rotation of a neutron star with a strong magnetic field. Typically, pulsar wind nebulae are seen in X-rays, and an infrared-only pulsar wind nebula would be very unusual and exciting,” Dr. Posselt concluded.
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