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Strong heated winds may be detected blowing from a neutron star as it rips apart its partner


A team of scientists has discovered for the first time, using the most powerful telescopes on Earth and in space, blasts of hot, warm, and cold winds from a neutron star as it eats stuff from a neighboring star. The revelation sheds fresh light on the behaviors of some of the universe’s most extreme things.

Low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXBs) are neutron star or black hole systems. They are powered by material stolen from a nearby star, a process called as accretion. The majority of accretion happens during strong eruptions, when the systems brighten substantially. Simultaneously, part of the material that spirals in is ejected back into space by disc winds and jets.

The most typical indications of material erupting from celestial objects are connected with “warm” gas. Despite this, until date, only winds of “hot” or “cool” gas have been seen in transient X-ray binaries.

A team of researchers from eleven nations, headed by the University of Southampton, investigated the recent eruption of the X-ray binary known as Swift J1858 in this new study. They employed a variety of telescopes, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Spanish Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC).

The findings, published in the journal Nature, revealed persistent traces of a warm wind at ultraviolet wavelengths happening concurrently with indications of a cold wind at optical wavelengths. This is the first time winds from such a system have been seen across many bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Dr. Noel Castro Segura of the University of Southampton, the study’s lead author, stated: “These kind of eruptions are uncommon, and each one is distinct. They are normally severely covered by interstellar dust, making observation very challenging. Swift J1858 was unique in that, although being on the far side of our galaxy, the obscuration was minimal enough to allow for a comprehensive multiwavelength examination.”

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“Only one other system, the black hole X-ray binary V404 Cyg, has shown comparable features. However, we were unable to replicate the experiment on that system since the eruption stopped before we could get the ground-based and space-based telescopes to monitor it concurrently “Dr Hern├índez Santisteban of the University of St Andrews is one of the co-authors.

Swift J1858 is a recently found X-ray transient event with remarkable diversity over the electromagnetic spectrum, providing a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

“All of the astronomers in the field were ecstatic,” Dr Castro Segura added, “to the point that we united our efforts to cover the whole spectrum, from radio to X-ray, utilizing state-of-the-art observatories on Earth and in space.”

Nathalie Degenaar, a co-author from the University of Amsterdam, noted, “Neutron stars have a very high gravitational pull, allowing them to consume gas from other stars. The stellar cannibals, on the other hand, are messy eaters, and most of the gas that neutron stars attract is hurled into space at high speeds rather being digested. This behavior has a significant influence on both the neutron star and its near environs. In this research, we report on a novel finding that reveals important details regarding the haphazard feeding habits of these cosmic cookie monsters.”

“We had cosmic luck on our side this time, as we were able to coordinate 10 telescopes and target them towards the J1858, all when it was active. Because we may utilize multiple approaches at different wavelengths, we can gain considerably more information “According to Dr. Hern├índez Santisteban.

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Dr. Degenaar said, “It was a big task to create such an extensive observation campaign based on the finest telescopes on Earth and in space. So it’s really thrilling that all of our efforts have paid off, allowing us to make a critical discovery that would not have been feasible otherwise.”

The team was able to investigate the temporal development of the gas that flows out as well as uncover the many sorts of winds. They discovered that the strong changes in the brightness of the system had no effect on the warm wind. Previously, the lack of such a reaction was an unsubstantiated theoretical prediction based on extensive simulations.

“In this study, we coupled the HST’s unique capabilities with the finest ground-based telescopes, including as the VLT and GTC, to acquire a comprehensive picture of the gas dynamics in the system, from near-infrared to ultraviolet wavelengths. This enabled us to reveal the actual nature of these tremendous discharges for the first time “According to Dr. Castro Segura.

“Our findings give important new insights into how these items interact with their surroundings. They contribute to the production of new generations of stars as well as the growth of the galaxy itself by shedding energy and matter into it “Dr. Castro Segura finished his remarks.

The research was supported by funds from organizations such as the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and NASA, among others.

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