Chandra spies huge pulsar jet

NASA's X-ray telescope observes an extraordinary jet from a runaway pulsar

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Credit: NASA/CXC/ISDC

The jet is easily seen in Chandra's X-ray data, shown here in purple


A pulsar with the longest jet in the Galaxy has been observed with NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope. The stream of high-energy particles is being spat out by IGR J11014-6103 as it speeds away from a nearby supernova remnant.

The pulsar is located 60 lightyears away from the remnant of the supernova which created it – seen in the top left of the image.  It’s thought that the pulsar is racing away from the remnant at between 1.5 and 3 million kilometres per hour, making it one of the fastest ever seen. It is the first time such a quick object has been observed producing a jet.

Although the jet measures a record-breaking 37 lightyears in length, it is not only remarkable for its size. The jet has a distinctive corkscrew structure, suggesting that the pulsar is wobbling like a spinning top.

The twisted jet appears as a stream coming from the pulsar in the bottom right of the image. However, at the base of the jet there is another bright trail. This is a pulsar wind nebula, a cocoon of high-energy particles that surround the object and stream behind like a comet’s tail.

Normally, the jet and spin axis are aligned with the direction a pulsar is moving. This is not the case for IGR J11014-6013.

“We can see this pulsar is moving directly away from the centre of the supernova remnant based on the shape and direction of the pulsar wind nebula,” says Pol Bordas from the University of Tuebingen in Germany. “The question is why is the jet pointing off in this other direction?”

The supernova remnant is elongated along the same line as the jet, suggesting that the pulsar’s high speed and jet were an important part of the initial supernova explosion that created them. Exactly how though is still unknown.

“The pulsar is moving one way and the jet going another,” says Gerd Puehlhofer, also of the University of Tuebingen. “This gives us clues that exotic physics can occur when some stars collapse.” 


 

 

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