NASA Discovers Object 10 Million Times Brighter Than the Sun

According to a new NASA study, astronomers have recently discovered an ultraluminous X-ray source (ULX) whose mere existence breaks a physical law called the Eddington limit.

How Did NASA Astronomers Discover This Baffling ULX?

A photo of a luminous object in space
Source: NASA via Unsplash

Observations published in The Astrophysical Journal state that NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)—which observes the universe in X-rays—recently detected a ULX, named M82 X-2, that shines 10 million times brighter than Earth’s sun. According to the Eddington limit, this should not be possible.

The Eddington limit is a physical law that determines the limit of an object’s brightness based upon its size. When an object breaks the Eddington law, it is expected to explode. M82 X-2, however, shatters all expectations. 

What Is M82 X-2?

While astronomers originally believed ULXs to be black holes, they have identified M82 X-2 to be a neutron star, or, an accumulation of the dead cores of stars. The gravity on the surface of a neutron star is nearly 100 trillion times stronger than the gravity on Earth’s surface.

What does this mean? According to NASA, “A marshmallow dropped on the surface of a neutron star would hit it with the energy of a thousand hydrogen bombs.”

Theories on Why M82 X-2 Breaks the Eddington Limit

A photo of a luminous object in space
Source: Rodion Kutsaiev via Unsplash

While currently, scientists can’t confirm the exact reason that M82 X-2 is able to break the Eddington limit, one prominent theory has been proposed.

Some astronomers believe that M82 X-2’s intense magnetic field alters the shape of its atoms, allowing it to remain intact as it grows in brightness. 

But how does it grow in brightness? Well, M82 X-2, with its great gravitational pull, annually consumes about one-and-a-half Earths’ worth of material. (It is siphoned off a neighboring star.) When this material meets the surface of M82 X-2. the neutron star becomes brighter.

The Laws of Physics: Made to Be Broken?

The fact that M82 X-2 goes completely against what was once a commonly accepted scientific law forces us to ask the question, “What do we really know about the universe?”

Similar to the discovery of M82 X-2, in 2021, a study found that the muon, one of the universe’s most common subatomic particles, was breaking the laws of physics when immersed in a magnetic field. 

“In this respect, the new measurement could indeed mark the start of a revolution of our understanding of nature,” said Thomas Teubner, a theoretical physicist from the University of Liverpool and co-author of the new study.



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