Earth has been hit by a burst of energy from a dead star so powerful that scientists cannot fully explain it.
The intense gamma rays, detected using a vast telescope system in Namibia, would make humans sizzle if we were exposed to them.
They come from the Vela Pulsar, about 1,000 light years from Earth, whose appearance has already been compared to the mask of the Phantom of the Opera.
Pulsars are the remains of a massive star that exploded about 10,000 years ago as a supernova and then collapsed in on itself.
British astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell was the first person to discover a pulsar in 1967, but this study marks the highest-energy beams from a pulsar ever seen.
The Vela Pulsar is located about 1,000 light years from Earth in the southern sky in the constellation Vela.
What is a pulsar?
Pulsars are neutron stars, crushed cores of massive suns that self-destructed when they ran out of fuel, collapsed, and exploded.
The explosion simultaneously shattered the star and compressed its core into a body as small as a city but more massive than the sun.
The result is an object of incredible density, where a tablespoon of matter weighs as much as a mountain on Earth.
Equally incredible is the rapid spin of a pulsar, with typical rotation periods ranging from once every few seconds to hundreds of times per second.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean aliens are trying to contact us, according to study author Arache Djannati-Atai of the Astroparticle and Cosmology Laboratory (APC) in France.
“It’s true that when they were first discovered in 1967, the fountains were called LGM1 and LGM2, after the little green men, but that was almost a joke,” he told MailOnline.
“We know for certain that pulsars are corpses of massive stars and that no extraterrestrial intelligence is necessary to produce the signals we see on Earth.”
Pulsars are described as remnants of stars that spectacularly exploded in a supernova, the largest explosion to occur in space.
These pulsars emit rotating beams of electromagnetic radiation, somewhat like cosmic beacons.
If its beam passes through our solar system, we see flashes of radiation at regular time intervals.
These flashes, also called radiation pulses, can be looked for in different energy bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“These dead stars are composed almost exclusively of neutrons and are incredibly dense,” said Emma de Oña Wilhelmi, HESS scientist and author of the study.
The Vela Pulsar makes more than 11 complete rotations per second, faster than a helicopter rotor. When the pulsar rotates, it spews a jet of charged particles that race along the pulsar’s rotation axis at about 70 percent of the speed of light (artist’s impression).
The observations were made using the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) telescope observatory in Namibia (pictured).
“A teaspoon of its material has a mass of more than five billion tons, or about 900 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza.”
One pulsar in particular that has long been of interest to scientists is Pulsar Vela, located about 1,000 light years in the southern sky in the constellation of Vela.
Vela Pulsar is only about 19 kilometers in diameter and makes more than 11 complete rotations per second, faster than a helicopter rotor.
When Vela Pulsar spins, it spews a stream of charged particles that race along the pulsar’s rotation axis at about 70 percent of the speed of light.
Using the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) telescope observatory in Namibia, scientists studied gamma rays, which have the smallest wavelengths but the highest energy of any wave in the electromagnetic spectrum, which are emitted by the Vela Press.
The energy of these gamma rays reached 20 teraelectronvolts, or about 10 trillion times the energy of visible light.
This is an order of magnitude larger than the Crab pulsar, the only other pulsar detected in the teraelectronvolt energy range.
Scientists believe the source of this radiation may be fast electrons produced and accelerated in the pulsar’s magnetosphere, its system of magnetic fields.
Like planets, including Earth, pulsars have a magnetosphere, an invisible force field that channels jets of particles along the two magnetic poles.
The magnetosphere is made up of plasma and electromagnetic fields that surround and co-rotate with the star.
The energy of these gamma rays clocked in at 20 teraelectronvolts, or about 10 trillion times the energy of visible light (pictured).
Pulsars have a magnetosphere, an invisible force field that channels jets of particles along the two magnetic poles (pictured).
According to the authors of the study, Vela Pulsar officially holds the record for being the pulsar with the highest gamma-ray energy discovered to date, which could revise existing astronomical models.
“This discovery is important because we have made significant progress in exploring pulsars at their extreme energy limit,” Djannati-Atai told MailOnline.
«In the zoo of cosmic beasts, pulsars are truly fantastic objects: like neutron stars, they are extremely dense states of matter and have very intense magnetic fields.
«The study of the energetic limits of the phenomena that take place in pulsars and their environment helps us to improve or even revise our theoretical models of the processes and physical conditions that occur there.
“It will also provide a better understanding of other very dense and highly magnetized objects that act as cosmic accelerators, such as the magnetospheres of black holes.”
The new study has been published in the journal. Nature Astronomy.
SUPERNOVAS OCCUR WHEN A GIANT STAR EXPLODES
A supernova occurs when a star explodes, sending debris and particles into space.
A supernova burns only for a short period of time, but it can tell scientists a lot about how the universe began.
A type of supernova has shown scientists that we live in an expanding universe, growing at an ever-increasing rate.
Scientists have also determined that supernovae play a key role in the distribution of elements throughout the universe.
In 1987, astronomers detected a “titanic supernova” in a nearby galaxy burning with the power of more than 100 million suns (pictured).
There are two known types of supernova.
The first type occurs in binary star systems when one of the two stars, a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, steals matter from its companion star.
Eventually, the white dwarf accumulates too much matter, causing the star to explode and become a supernova.
The second type of supernova occurs at the end of the life of a single star.
As the star runs out of nuclear fuel, some of its mass flows toward its core.
Eventually, the core is so heavy that it cannot withstand its own gravitational force and collapses, resulting in another giant explosion.
Many elements found on Earth form in the cores of stars and these elements travel to form new stars, planets and everything else in the universe.