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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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What are Howling 'Zombie Stars'? NASA's NuSTAR Finds Out

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has captured a new high-energy X-ray view (magenta, Figure 1) of the bustling center of our Milky Way galaxy. The smaller circle shows the area where the NuSTAR image was taken -- the very center of

(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech) NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has captured a new high-energy X-ray view (magenta, Figure 1) of the bustling center of our Milky Way galaxy. The smaller circle shows the area where the NuSTAR image was taken -- the very center of our galaxy, where a giant black hole resides. That region is enlarged to the right, in the larger circle, to show the NuSTAR data.

The center of the Milky Way galaxy is currently emitting some high energy X-rays which are apparently "screams" of dead stars that are feeding off its companion stars from a vast stellar graveyard, according to astronomers.

NASA's NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) space telescope was able to detect these X-rays that are pulsing from this area that is about 100 light years away from the supermassive black hole found at the center of our galaxy. This hole in the middle of our galaxy is equivalent to 4.3 million times the mass of our sun.   

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According to Kerstin Perez from Columbia University, this is an entirely new component affecting the center of the galaxy where NuSTAR captured images of this cosmic anomaly. Scientists cannot fully explain the mysterious X-ray signals yet where they are now working on the study. The space telescope has been photographing clear images of the center of the Milky Ways with high energy X-rays since 2012.

Scientists believe that one of the main sources of these X-rays are dead or dying stars that are often paired in a binary star system where they can suck off matter similar to a zombie like manner where this kind of energy feeding can cause more erupting X-rays throughout the galaxy.

This dying star or "zombie" star is called a pulsar where researchers claim to be the main culprit of this cosmic phenomenon. The formation of these pulsars are encouraged when stars explode into a supernova and then suddenly collapse within themselves which can spin extremely fast like a beacon across space, sending out intense, powerful beams of X-ray radiation.  

As these radiation beams pierce through deep space, they sometimes reach Earth where scientists detect them with instruments such as telescopes.

According to co-author of the study Fiona Harrison from the California Institute of Technology, scientists may be witnessing beacons from a hiding pulsar population found in the galactic center. This can also signify that there is something unique in the environment in the center of the Milky Way.

Apart from "zombie'" stars, these mysterious X-ray signals can also originate from white dwarfs which are stars that have exhausted their energy, with only dense remnants left from a supernova explosion. 

This study is published in the journal, Nature. 

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