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Burning Neutron Stars and Other Extreme Phenomena to Highlight NASA X-ray Astronomy Meeting

March 17, 2000

Greenbelt, Md. -- Astronomers will discuss their latest observations of nuclear infernos on neutron stars and massive particle jets racing away from black holes, as well as new tests of extreme physics, at the Rossi 2000 meeting on March 22-24 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Among the meeting highlights are first-time observations of particle jets from either a black hole or neutron star punching through and distorting the shell of a supernova remnant. Also, scientists will present observational evidence that a recently discovered class of X-ray stars, called Anomalous X-ray Pulsars, have star-quakes similar to the well-known Vela pulsar, confirming that the pulsars are a type of neutron star.

Rossi 2000 is the first meeting to bring together the diverse pool of observational X-ray astronomers and theorists utilizing the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), a NASA-built satellite launched in 1995. Over 150 U.S. and international researchers are expected to attend.

When scientists first put X-ray detectors above the earth's atmosphere, they discovered bright X-ray sources that are now identified as black holes and neutron stars. Powering the X-ray emission is the extreme force of gravity swirling matter to terrific speeds and temperatures. The process is called accretion: Gas either from stars or floating freely in space pours onto a compacted object -- perhaps onto a black hole or neutron star, the core remains of a once-massive exploded star, or onto a supermassive black hole in the core of a galaxy.

RXTE is a unique type of X-ray observatory that measures the rapid fluctuation of X-ray activity in this ever-changing accretion environment. RXTE looks for changes in X-ray patterns over timescales as short as a millisecond, which can reveal the physics of how matter is behaving under the force of extreme gravity. As such, RXTE can test the Theory of General Relativity and laws of physics in ways not possible in earth-bound laboratories.

Prime targets for RXTE include such exotic phenomenon as soft gamma-ray repeaters and bursting X-ray stars; X-ray pulsars and objects that may be highly-magnetized pulsars called magnetars; and active galactic nuclei (AGN), which includes black-hole-powered quasars. All of these topics -- including recent observations of PSR J0537-6910, a pulsar that frequently changes its spin rate like no other known pulsar -- will be discussed at the meeting.

The Rossi 2000 lectures and presentations run from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. over the three-day meeting period in the Building 8 auditorium on the Goddard campus. Registration, which includes light meals, is free to members of the Press.

For more information, refer to the Rossi 2000 web site at
http://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/xte/rossi/rossi2000.html. Background information about RXTE geared to the general public can be found at http://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/xte/learning_center.

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