Downtown Milky Way Never Sleeps: Thermonuclear Explosion Detected On a Neutron Star

According to a representative of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI RAN), the Russian ART-XC telescope aboard the Spektr-RG space observatory, launched into orbit July 13, recorded a thermonuclear explosion on a neutron star in the center of our galaxy

Spectrum-RG has been sent to Lagrangian point L2 between two large bodies, the Earth and our host star, 1.5 million kilometers away from our planet. At any other location, a small object like a space observatory would go into its own orbit around one of the large bodies, but at the Lagrangian point the gravitational forces of the Sun and our planet match up in a way that cause it to maintain a stable position. 

Right now the observatory is heading to the L2 point, according to Roscosmos, it will arrive there in the end of October.

But there’s still a lot to learn on the way to your new place of work: The ART-XC telescope detected an explosion while observing two closely located neutron stars.

‘In August-September, the ART-XC telescope carried out observations of the Galaxy center. The telescope captured two neutron stars, which are close enough to each other,’ said the representative of the IKI RAN ‘At the same time, we discovered a thermonuclear explosion on one of them.’

Neutron stars are about 1.5 times more massive than our Sun and have a strong gravitational field that pulls gas from the companion star. This gas can build up on the neutron star’s surface and explode in a fast, high-energy thermonuclear reaction.

The exact location and the name of the star has not been disclosed yet, but one thing is for sure — downtown Milky Way is quite a crazy place, and we’re lucky to live in a quiet and peaceful neighborhood in the suburbs of our galaxy. 

The observatory is equipped with the German eROSITA telescope and Russian telescope ART-XC. The project is designed to build a complete map of the universe in the X-ray range. eROSITA’s mission is to detect new clusters of galaxies and active galactic nuclei, while ART-XC will be busy tracking supermassive black holes.

In the next four years, the observatory will perform eight all-sky surveys. And in the next three, it will observe individual galaxies.

Christina Daumann