Department of Physics and Astronomy
Stony Brook University
7:30 pm; Friday, February 05, 2021
on-line via Zoom


The Youngest-Known Neutron Star

Prof. Jim Lattimer

The entire saga of SN 1987A, beginning with the correct 1986 prediction of its observed neutrinos and now extending to the possible discovery of its elusive neutron star remnant, shows the power and possibilities of science. NRAO's Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) - the largest astronomical project in existence - is a single telescope of revolutionary design, composed of 66 high precision antennas located on the Chajnantor Plateau, 5000 meters altitude in northern Chile. In 2019, it discovered, in the expanding gases ejected from SN 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a blob of dust that is about 33 K, 15 K warmer than the surrounding material. The excess luminosity of the dust blob requires a power source of 40 - 90 solar luminosities, which turns out to be very close to the expected thermal power output of a 33-year old neutron star. Moreover, the collapsed remnant of the supernova, either a black hole or a neutron star, was kicked during the explosion, and the dust blob is offset from the center of the explosion with the same direction and distance predicted from SN 1987A's gaseous ejecta . The dust blob is dense and optically thick, which would effectively hide the strong X-ray emission of a 4 million-degree, 12-km radius star. After considering a number of alternatives, my team concluded the most plausible explanation is that this dust blob is being heated by a buried, cooling, neutron star, which we dubbed NS 1987A. This observation may have finally solved the long-standing mystery about the outcome of SN 1987A, which is theoretically expected to have formed a neutron star, not a black hole. This star has remained undiscovered despite massive searches for it. This makes the wide-scale acceptance of anti-science beliefs and disrespect for truth all the more disheartening. These attitudes have resulted in an enormous amplification of the toll of the Covid pandemic, false voting fraud beliefs, and treason. But even greater carnage is expected from the poison of climate change denial.

Prof. Lattimer, a Distinguished Professor in the Physics & Astronomy Department of Stony Brook University, is a long-time resident of East Setauket and a former Chairperson of the Earth and Space Sciences Department. He has received Sloan and Guggenheim Fellowships, is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and has received their highest award in nuclear astrophysics, the Hans A. Bethe Prize. His outside interests include his children, grandchildren and ferroequinology.