NuSTAR detects 'zombie stars' in the center of our galaxy

Enigmatic X-rays may indicate dead stars feeding off of their neighboring stars.
By Kathy Fey | Apr 30, 2015
NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has located the glowing remnants of dying stars emitting high-energy X-rays near the center of our galaxy. According to Nature World News, these X-ray emissions "could be the 'howls' of dead stars as they feed on their stellar companions."

These X-ray "noises" of neighbor-feeding stars are coming from near the very center of our galaxy a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A. That area of space contains many sources of X-rays, but the ones spotted by NuSTAR are noticeably strong.

There are several theories explaining why such intense X-rays may occur, and several of those theories focus on active "corpses" of stars. Some dead stars can draw matter off of their neighboring stars if located in close proximity. This process of a dead star "feeding" off of an active star can result in a striking eruption of radiation, which would explain NuSTAR's findings if the source of the radiation is, in fact, so-called "zombie stars."

"We can see a completely new component of the center of our galaxy with NuSTAR's images," Kerstin Perez of Columbia University said in a statement.

The exact type of zombie stars could be one of several, including pulsars fast-spinning dead stars that siphon material from nearby stars and blast radiation into space.

"We may be witnessing the beacons of a hitherto hidden population of pulsars in the galactic center," Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology said. "This would mean there is something special about the environment in the very center of our galaxy."

The radiation could also be coming from white dwarf stars, or other sources. Zombie stars as a source of X-rays is only one possibility, and the team is planning more observations.

"This new result just reminds us that the galactic center is a bizarre place," Chuck Hailey of Columbia University said. "In the same way people behave differently walking on the street instead of jammed on a crowded rush hour subway,stellar objects exhibit weird behavior when crammed in close quarters near the supermassive black hole."

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

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