An artist’s impression of a Type 1 X-ray burst, triggered when gas falling into a rapidly spinning neutron star – a pulsar – builds to the point that a thermonuclear detonation occurs, blowing off the outer layers of the compacted star. Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA)
The Neutron styar Interior Composition Explorer – NICER – telescope array aboard the International Space Station has captured a brilliant burst of X-rays caused by a titanic thermonuclear blast on the surface of a spinning pulsar that released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days.
“This burst was outstanding,” said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland. “We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events.”
The Type 1 X-ray burst was detected on 21 August from an object catalogued as SAX J1808.4-3658, or J1808 for short, located some 11,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. The collapsed remnant of a once massive star, J1808 ...