There is no such thing as impossible: Just ask the international researchers who discovered an astrophysical phenomenon they never thought feasible.

The group, which includes University of Alberta astronomer Gregory Sivakoff, found that as highly magnetic neutron stars consume material, they emit jets.

When objects like neutron stars—the smallest and densest of their kind, which forms from the supernova explosion of a massive star—and black holes grow, they release a spritz of matter.

“These are well-focused outflows of material that often travel at speeds near that of light,” Sivakoff, an associate professor in the department of physics, said in a statement.

The gushes of matter and energy into surrounding space can affect everything from the local environment to how entire galaxies form.

But while scientists have long known about jets (they date back more than 50 years), little is understood about the physics of how they’re launched.

Tapping into the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico and NASA’s orbiting Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, researchers observed a highly magnetic neutron star named Swift J0243.

“The radio spectrum of Swift J0243 is the same as that of jets from other sources and evolves in the same way,” according to lead study author Jakob van den Eijnden, a Ph.D. student from the University of Amsterdam. “The radio brightness also follows that of the in-falling gas, as seen in other jet-creating systems.

“So for the first time ever, we have observed a jet from a neutron star with a strong magnetic field,” he announced.

This breakthrough invalidates the long-held belief that it’s not possible for jets to form in strong magnetic fields, which were thought to prevent material from reaching the neutron star.

“This means that we understand less than we thought we did when it comes to jets,” Sivakoff admitted.

Moving forward, the team plans to study more highly magnetized neutron stars “to find out if the system we observed in this paper is typical or atypical,” he added.

The research—carried out by scientists at the University of Alberta, University of Amsterdam, and International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR)—was published this week in the journal Nature.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently uncovered never-before-seen features around a neutron star, at the heart of which you can find “nuclear pasta”—the strongest known material. Read more about outer space here.

 

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