NASA spots 'pumpkin' stars and the 'ghostly' heart of a supernova

Just in time for Halloween, NASA has released detailed images of some of its spookier recent space discoveries — including a patch pumpkin-shaped stars and the still-beating heart of a supernova.

Rapidly spinning space discoveries from NASA's Kepler mission and Hubble telescope

A pumpkin-shaped spinning star, left, and the bright green afterglow of a supernova are among the visually stunning space discoveries highlighted by NASA this week. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre )

Just in time for Halloween, NASA has released detailed images of some of its spookier recent space discoveries — including a patch of pumpkin-shaped stars and the still-beating heart of a supernova.

The space agency's Kepler and Swift missions have discovered a group of spinning stars that produce X-rays at more than 100 times the peak levels ever seen from the sun.

According to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, the stars are spinning so fast, "they've been squashed into pumpkin-like shapes."

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"These 18 stars rotate in just a few days on average, while the sun takes nearly a month," team leader Steve Howell, a senior research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said in a release.

"The rapid rotation amplifies the same kind of activity we see on the sun, such as sunspots and solar flares, and essentially sends it into overdrive."

One of the stars, an orange giant called KSw 71, is 10 times larger than the sun, rotates in 5.5 days, and produces X-ray emissions 4,000 times greater than the sun does at solar maximum, NASA said.

This pumpkin-like star is 10 times the size of the sun. (Francis Reddy/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

The discovery came from a survey conducted by the Kepler mission, which searched our region of the Milky Way galaxy in search of terrestrial planets. To date, the mission has confirmed more than 2,300 confirmed exoplanets and nearly 5,000 candidates.

'A dead star's ghostly glow'

The Goddard Space Flight Center has also released a Hubble Space Telescope image of what it calls "a dead star's ghostly glow" in the Crab Nebula, a region of space known for remnants of exploding stars, better known as supernovas.

"But don't be fooled. The ghoulish-looking object still has a pulse," wrote Ray Villard of the Space Telescope Science Institute. "Buried at its centre is the star's tell-tale heart, which beats with rhythmic precision."

This green glow, created by pulses of energy from the fast-spinning neutron star, is some 6,500 light-years away from Earth. (NASA and ESA)

He's referring to a neutron star, the crushed core of a supernova, which he says "has about the same mass as the sun but is squeezed into an ultra-dense sphere that is only a few miles across and 100 billion times stronger than steel."

And like pumpkins, this neutron star is rapidly spinning. NASA said it rotates 30 times per second.

"The wildly whirling object produces a deadly magnetic field that generates an electrifying one trillion volts," said Villard. "This energetic activity unleashes wisp-like waves that form an expanding ring, most easily seen to the upper right of the pulsar."


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