These delicate filaments are residues of a stellar explosion in the Great Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy visible in the southern sky, located 160,000 light-years away, that accompanies the Milky Way. They come from the death of a massive star in a supernova explosion, whose phenomenal light would reach Earth several thousand years ago. This filamentary material will finally be recycled for the construction of new stellar generations in the Great Magellanic Cloud. Our own Sun and planets are made up of similar supernova residues that exploded in our galaxy billions of years ago.
This structure houses a very powerful neutron star that can be the central rest of the explosion. It is very common for the nucleus of a star that explodes as a supernova, to enjoy a new life in the form of a rotating neutron star, or pulsar, after shedding its outer layers. In the case of N49, we are not only facing a simple neutron star that rotates every 8 seconds: it also has a robust magnetic field one thousand billion times more powerful than the Earth's magnetic field. This remarkable feature places this star in the exclusive class of objects called "magnetars."
On March 5, 1979, this neutron star triggered a historical episode of gamma-ray explosion that was detected by numerous satellites. Gamma rays carry millions of times more energy than visible photons, but the Earth's atmosphere protects us by blocking those from outer space. From the neutron star of N 49, gamma-ray emission has emerged several times later.
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