Astronomers, using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, have spotted a fast-moving pulsar escaping from a supernova remnant while firing off a record-breaking jet of high-energy particles -- the longest of any object in the Milky Way galaxy.
The pulsar, a type of neutron star, is known as IGR J11014-6103, and is located about 60 light years away from the center of the supernova remnant, SNR MSH 11-61A, in the constellation of Carina in the southern sky. The pulsar’s implied speed is between 2.5 million and 5 million miles per hour, making it one of the fastest pulsars ever observed, astronomers said in a study published Tuesday in the journal, Astronomy and Astrophysics.
“We've never seen an object that moves this fast and also produces a jet,” Lucia Pavan of the University of Geneva in Switzerland and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “By comparison, this jet is almost 10 times longer than the distance between the sun and our nearest star.”
Astronomers believe that IGR J11014-6103's peculiar behavior can likely be traced back to its birth in the collapse and subsequent explosion of a massive star. According to them, the X-ray jet in the pulsar is the longest known in the Milky Way galaxy, and it has a distinct twisting pattern that suggests the pulsar is wobbling like a spinning top.
In addition, the pulsar also is producing a cocoon of high-energy particles that enshrouds and trails behind it in a comet-like tail -- a structure called a pulsar wind nebula.
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“We can see this pulsar is moving directly away from the center of the supernova remnant based on the shape and direction of the pulsar wind nebula,” Pol Bordas, from the University of Tuebingen in Germany and the study’s co-author, said in the statement. “The question is, why is the jet pointing off in this other direction?”
While the spin axis and jets of a pulsar usually point in the same direction as they are moving, IGR J11014-6103's spin axis and direction of motion are almost at right angles.
“With the pulsar moving one way and the jet going another, this gives us clues that exotic physics can occur when some stars collapse,” Gerd Puehlhofer of the University of Tuebingen said.