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Interstellar research highlights for World Space Week

Published: 9 October 2018
Illustration
The 'Bursting Pulsar' ‘hiccups’ as it strips matter from a nearby giant star

Communities across the globe are celebrating World Space Week, the largest public space event on Earth.

Researchers from the University of Southampton are constantly exploring space through research groups and interdisciplinary activities that reveal new secrets about our galaxies’ planets, stars, black holes and more.

Delve into our School of Physics and Astronomy’s interstellar highlights this World Space Week with these recent research news updates:

Bursting pulsar found to ‘hiccup’ during crucial stage of its lifecycle

Postgraduate researcher Jamie Court discovered that the unique Bursting Pulsar neutron star has a tendency to ‘hiccup’ as it strips matter from a nearby giant star onto its surface.

The observations, featured in a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, established how the star steals matter from a low-mass stellar neighbour.

“It is now believed that, in neutron stars near the end of its process, this flow can sometimes switch on and off, causing the X-rays to slowly sputter out like a dying engine,” Jamie explained.

Astronomers reveal secrets of most distant supernova ever detected

Astronomers from the University of Southampton led the discovery of a huge cosmic explosion that took place 10.5 billion years ago, the oldest supernova ever studied.

The exploding star was detected as part of the Dark Energy Survey after rays of light travelled for three quarters of the Universe’s near 14 billion year history.

The distant, bright and extremely rare discovery, named DES16C2nm, was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

New thermal coatings for spacecraft and satellites developed using metamaterials

An international study, driven by Principal Investigators Professor Otto Muskens from Southampton’s Integrated Nanophotonics research group, and Electronic and Computer Science's Professor Kees De Groot, created new Metamaterial Optical Solar Reflectors (Meta-OSRs) that can be placed on the outside of spacecraft to deflect solar radiation while dissipating heat that is generated on board.

The new technology could replace quartz tiles, which are commonly used but have heavy and fragile qualities, and other solutions such as polymer foils that are unsuitable for missions lasting more than three to five years.

The research team’s new meta-OSR coating exploits the potential of metal oxide, a material commonly used for transparent electrical contacts.

Donor star breathes life into zombie companion

Astronomers observed a red giant star breathing life into a dead companion in the birth of a rare binary system.

The puzzling finding, which was identified using the European Space Agency’s Integral space observatory, was analysed using the SMARTnet community of global astronomers initiated by the University of Southampton.

Associate Professor Dr Poshak Gandhi, from the Southampton Astronomy Group and co-author of the study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, welcomed the revelation as a “great example of discoveries waiting to be made in the field of extreme astrophysics”.

Southampton alumna's neutron star discovery published in Nature Astronomy

Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), including Southampton alumna Liz Bartlett, located a concealed neutron star in a much-studied supernova remnant.

The finding represented the first discovery of an isolated neutron star with a low magnetic field beyond our galaxy.

The location of the stellar corpse was verified by observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which Liz has worked with since the year abroad programme during her undergraduate study in Southampton.

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