Scientists have discovered what seems to be the first proof of a weird quantum effect known as vacuum birefringence first observed in the 1930s. The star´s light around the strong magnetic field revealed the strange quantum behavior. Astronomers utilized ESO´s Very Large Telescope to observe the light emitted by a neutron star (RX j1856.5-3754) located 400 light years away from earth. In spite of the dimness, astronomers were able to resolve it

RX J1856.5-3754

This magnetized neutron star is believed to have been formed in a supernova explosion approximately one million years ago. Discovered in 1992, this magnetar star is the closest of its kind to earth. Previous measurements categorized this neutron star as a quark star due to its temperature (700,000 C° and its diameter (4-8 km); however, later observations with Chandra and Hubble revealed that its true temperature (434,999 C° and its radius (up to 14 km) classified it into a neutron star.

Neutron stars

These types of stars are the remnant of massive stars at the end of their lives. #neutron stars are characterized by their radius which averaged 10 km, thus making them very dense bodies. They result from supernova explosions. They are composed principally of neutrons, making them very dense and possess strong #Magnetic fields, which can be millions of times that of the sun. Having a tremendous effect in the space around them.

Vacuum birefringence

Generally vacuum space is empty-no matter, in which light can travel without being altered. In #Quantum electrodynamics (QED), the theory that describes the way in which light and matter interact, space is permeated of virtual particles that appear and disappear frequently and very strong magnetic fields, such as those from RX j185, can change so that it polarizes the light travelling through it, functioning as a prism.

Vacuum birefringence was predicted back in the 1930s by Werner Heisenberg and Hans Euler. Despite experiments in the laboratory, the observation of the phenomenon had not been attained during the last 80 years since its prediction and it was only observed in the presence of such strong magnetic fields, such as those that surround neutron stars.