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Rare magnetar discovered during COSPAR Capacity Building Workshop organised by prof. Mariano Mendez

13 december 2013

A team of astronomers led by the PhD student Ms. Ping Zhou from the University of Nanjing in China, which includes prof. Mariano Mendez from the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, discovered a new transient magnetar. This magnetar, the ninth of its class, was identified during a COSPAR Capacity Building Workshop for young researchers in developing countries. It is likely that the magnetar, an ultra-magnetic neutron star, was part of a binary star system (two stars orbiting around each other) together with an “anti-magnetar” (a young neutron star with a low magnetic field). The results of this research will be published in January in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

When a heavy star comes to the end of its life in a supernova explosion a neutron star or a black hole is formed. A transient magnetar is a neutron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field that suddenly starts shining and then fades away slowly. Only 8 such magnetars were known before Ms. Zhou’s discovery.

During the COSPAR training workshop Zhou studied the nearby supernova remnant SNR Kesteven 79. Using X-ray images from 2008 and 2009 she discovered a bright source south of the supernova remnant that was not visible in previous observations made from 2001 to 2007. Ping Zhou: “Discovering a new star, especially such a peculiar one, was the best thing that happened in my career. Since primary school I had the dream of discovering a new star; I was so excited when this dream came true! I thank COSPAR and the lecturers at the Capacity Building Workshop in Nanjing. The atmosphere was great, and they made me feel part of a big family.”

The newly discovered magnetar 3XMM J186536.6+003317 pulses with X-rays every 11.56 s and, therefore, has the longest rotation period among all known transient magnetars. The distance to the magnetar indicates that there is a likely connection between this object, the supernova remnant and the anti-magnetar that is located at the center of supernova remnant. It is possible that both stars were members of a binary system that was disrupted during the supernova explosion.

COSPAR is the international Committee on Space Research, and the COSPAR Capacity Building Workshops have been developed specifically for young researchers in developing countries. Co-author Mariano Mendez from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, chair of COSPAR’s Panel on Capacity Building, supervised the workshop that took place in China in September 2013. Mariano Mendez: “I myself come from a developing country, Argentina. I know how difficult it is to be isolated while you try to do this type of research. With these workshops COSPAR tries to help these scientists. All data and software are freely available, and we teach the participants of the workshops how to use them. COSPAR has assembled a team of high-level scientists from the US, Europe and Japan and helps the students with their first step (this is always the most difficult one!). In the last ten years COSPAR has organized about twenty workshops around the world, not just in astronomy but also in remote sensing and Earth studies from space and planetary science. Zhou’s discovery is fantastic high-level research. That she did this during one of the COSPAR workshops shows that these events meet our goals!”

During the COSPAR Capacity Building workshops the student participants are trained in the use of data from public archives maintained by the European Space Agency (ESA), the American National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and other agencies. For this discovery Zhou used data from ESA’s X-ray satellite, XMM-Newton. Carlos Gabriel, member of the XMM-Newton Science Operations Team at the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Spain and COSPAR officer responsible for the astronomy workshops, was the main organizer of the Workshop in China where this discovery took place: “The discovery is the byproduct of data taken in 2008 and 2009 for a very different project. Zhou’s findings highlight the importance of providing easy access to data gathered by our satellites over decades through science archives as is done here at ESAC. This result is also proof of the success of this COSPAR initiative.”

Further measurements of this magnetar should clarify the possible relation between the magnetar, the supernova remnant and the anti-magnetar.

Image of the supernova remnant Kesteven 79 and the newly discovered magnetar, 3XMM J185246.6+003317, in X-rays obtained with the XMM-Newton telescope. The supernova remnant, a hot expanding gas shell produced by the explosion of a star at the end of its life, is the extended source at the center of the image. Since X-rays are invisible to the human eye, the brightness of the gas in X-rays is represented by the colors blue, red and yellow. The white contours represent the brightness of the remnant in radio, at a wavelength of 21 cm, measured with the Very Large Array radio telescopes located in New Mexico, US. The red circle and the green cross indicate the location of the transient magnetar and the anti-magnetar, respectively. The transient magnetar was not present in the 2007 image (left), but appears in the 2008 image (right).
Image of the supernova remnant Kesteven 79 and the newly discovered magnetar, 3XMM J185246.6+003317, in X-rays obtained with the XMM-Newton telescope. The supernova remnant, a hot expanding gas shell produced by the explosion of a star at the end of its life, is the extended source at the center of the image. Since X-rays are invisible to the human eye, the brightness of the gas in X-rays is represented by the colors blue, red and yellow. The white contours represent the brightness of the remnant in radio, at a wavelength of 21 cm, measured with the Very Large Array radio telescopes located in New Mexico, US. The red circle and the green cross indicate the location of the transient magnetar and the anti-magnetar, respectively. The transient magnetar was not present in the 2007 image (left), but appears in the 2008 image (right).

The Capacity Building Workshop at the Xuyi Observatory Station in the Province of Jiangsu was organized by COSPAR and received generous support from ESA, JAXA, IAU, Purple Mountain Observatory (Chinese Academy of Sciences CAS), Nanjing University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

More information:

Contact

Ms. Ping Zhou
University of Nanjing, China
Tel: +86 025-8359 3632
E-mail: pingzhou@nju.edu.cn

Prof. dr. Mariano Mendez
University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Chair of COSPAR Panel on Capacity Building (PCB)
Tel: +31 050-363 4093
E-mail: mariano@astro.rug.nl

Article:

Discovery of the transient magnetar 3XMM J185246.6+003317 near the supernova remnant Kesteven 79 with XMM-Newton, Ping Zhou, Yang Chen, Xiang-Dong Li, Samar Safi-Harb, Mariano Mendez, Yukikatsu Terada, Wei Sun, Ming-Yu Ge, accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, http://arxiv.org/abs/1310.7705

Laatst gewijzigd:04 juli 2014 21:38

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