Nature 440, 772-775 (6 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04669; Received 5 August 2005; ; Accepted 21 February 2006

A debris disk around an isolated young neutron star

Zhongxiang Wang1, Deepto Chakrabarty1 and David L. Kaplan1

Pulsars are rotating, magnetized neutron stars that are born in supernova explosions following the collapse of the cores of massive stars. If some of the explosion ejecta fails to escape, it may fall back onto the neutron star1 or it may possess sufficient angular momentum to form a disk2. Such 'fallback' is both a general prediction of current supernova models3 and, if the material pushes the neutron star over its stability limit, a possible mode of black hole formation4. Fallback disks could dramatically affect the early evolution of pulsars2, 5, yet there are few observational constraints on whether significant fallback occurs or even the actual existence of such disks. Here we report the discovery of mid-infrared emission from a cool disk around an isolated young X-ray pulsar. The disk does not power the pulsar's X-ray emission but is passively illuminated by these X-rays. The estimated mass of the disk is of the order of 10 Earth masses, and its lifetime ( 106 years) significantly exceeds the spin-down age of the pulsar, supporting a supernova fallback origin. The disk resembles protoplanetary disks seen around ordinary young stars6, suggesting the possibility of planet formation around young neutron stars.

  1. Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

Correspondence to: Deepto Chakrabarty1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.C. (Email: deepto@space.mit.edu).

Received 5 August 2005 | Accepted 21 February 2006


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