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Ageing Neutron Stars Might Be Key in Revealing the Existence of Important Theoretical Particle

The Axion, an ultra-light theoretical particle first proposed in the 1970s, could finally be proved a reality by new X-Ray observations around the Magnificent Seven.

The Magnificent Seven are a set of unclustered Neutron Stars, all within 1,500 light-years of Earth. They are the remnant dead cores left behind from massive stars that have ended their lives as Supernovas. They all share traits that make them ideal as stellar laboratories. Most importantly, they are soft x-ray sources, well isolated from other high-energy sources, they are middle-aged, having died within the last few hundred thousand years, which means they are cooling, and they generate magnetic fields trillions of times stronger than our own, here on Earth. We are also able to observe them from multiple sources allowing differential diagnosis of data collected. The authors of this study used data collected from the space-based XMM-Newton and Chandra x-ray telescopes.

The cores of stars have long been theorized as one source of axions; Dark Matter another. A recently published study co-authored by Christoper Dessert and Benjamin R. Safdi of the Theoretical Physics Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California, provides the very tantalizing possibility of a glimpse at axions.

Axions were first hypothesized in the 1970s as a possible solution to one of the many riddles of QCD, namely, CP Violation. If observed, they could provide the missing pieces in several Unifying Theories, Dark Matter, and String Theory among them.

The main issue, though, is that they are weakly-interactive (ultra-lightweight), meaning they don’t readily interact with the majority of the observable matter in the universe. However, they do have a specific fingerprint. They are expected to decay into paired photons in the presence of a strong magnetic field. This decay would release hard x-rays.

Here lies one of the issues in identifying axions. Many processes in space produce hard x-rays, most notably, any active solar nucleus. Enter the Magnificent Seven. They should produce axions in their cores; they have strong magnetic fields, and since they are cooling as they age, they produce soft x-rays.

So, when the authors of this study observed hard x-rays around members of The Magnificent Seven, they realized they could be seeing just the sort of decay predicted when axions interact with strong magnetic fields. Hard x-rays should not be emanating from these neutron stars, and there are no other likely candidate sources in their vicinities.

As one of the authors, Raymond Co states in another article published on the same research: “We’re not claiming that we’ve made the discovery of the Axion yet, but we’re saying that the extra X-ray photons can be explained by axions. It is an exciting discovery of the excess in the X-ray photons, and it’s an exciting possibility that’s already consistent with our interpretation of axions.”

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