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Cosmic hand reaches for the light

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In a new image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, high-energy X-rays emanating from the nebula around PSR B1509-58 have been colored blue to reveal a structure resembling a hand reaching for some eternal red cosmic light.

The star now spins around at the dizzying pace of seven times every second -- as pulsars do -- spewing energy into space that creates the scene.

Strong magnetic fields, 15 trillion times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field, are thought to be involved, too. The combination drives an energetic wind of electrons and ions away from the dying star. As the electrons move through the magnetized nebula, they radiate away their energy as X-rays.

The red light actually a neighboring gas cloud, RCW 89, energized into glowing by the fingers of the PSR B1509-58 nebula, astronomers believe.

The scene, which spans 150 light-years, is about 17,000 light years away, so what we see now is how it actually looked 17,000 years ago, and that light is just arriving here.


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Posted (edited)

Yes, a simple mistake.

"The young radio pulsar B1509-58 is associated with the supernova remnant MSH 15-52 (G320.4-1.2) (Seward & Harnden 1982; Manchester et al. 1982). Its spin parameters (a period of 150 ms and period derivative of 1.5 × 10−12 s s−1) make it one of the youngest and most energetic pulsars known, with a characteristic age

T ~ 1700 yr and a spin-down power of 1.8 × 1037 ergs s−1.

It presents one of the largest magnetic field strength (1.5 × 1013 G) (Kaspi et al. 1994) recorded for an isolated pulsar. Recent X-ray and -ray images have revealed a very complex pulsar environment where one can study several manifestations of pulsar wind nebulae: the shocked wind in an equatorial flow, a powerful jet, and the interaction and confinement of these wind features within the surrounding remnant."



At X-ray energies, the system is dominated by a bright central point source. This corresponds to the pulsar B1509–58, which has also been detected at radio wavelengths and in gamma rays.

PSR B1509–58 is one of the youngest and most energetic pulsars known: it has a spin-period P = 151 ms, a magnetic field B = 1.5 × 1013 G, a spin-down luminosity E˙ = 1.8 × 1037 erg s−1, and a characteristic age T = 1700 yr.

Surrounding the pulsar is an elongated nonthermal nebula, presumed to be the pulsar wind nebula (PWN) powered by the pulsar’s spin-down; no radio counterpart to this PWN has been identified. To the north of PSR B1509–58 is a source of thermal X-rays, coincident with the bright radio and optical emission from RCW 89 (Trussoni et al. 1996; Tamura et al. 1996).

3.2. The Diffuse Nebula

The X-ray emission surrounding B1509–58 shows a clear symmetry axis, oriented at a position angle 150◦ ±5◦ (N through E), and manifested on all spatial scales between

10′′ = 0.2 pc and 10′ = 15 pc. Such alignment can only be enforced by the central pulsar. We think it likely that this axis represents the spin-axis of the pulsar, as has also been argued for the Crab and Vela pulsars (Hester et al. 1995; Helfand, Gotthelf & Halpern 2001).

A variety of different arguments imply that the magnetic field in the PWN (pulsar wind nebula) is approximately 8 µG (see Gaensler et al. 2002 for details). This is an order of magnitude weaker than in the Crab Nebula, and implies a spectral break due to synchrotron cooling just below the X-ray band.

This low magnetic field is most likely a result of the low density of the medium into which the PWN has expanded (Bhattacharya 1990). It is unlikely the pulsar is much older than T (e.g. Gvaramadze, these proceedings), as this would require an even lower nebular field strength, not consistent with other estimates.

Chandra Observations of PSR B1509–58 and SNR G320.4–1.2

Edited by merril

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Perhaps, not so much a mistake, as not explaining the apparent age of the pulsar supernova remnant in the image-

1700 years old.

A quote from the woman who famously did not get a Nobel Prize for her part in discovering pulsars-

Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

"So what would a neutron star be like? There's just over 1.4 solar masses jammed in a 10 km radius sphere. The gravitational field is enormous. The work put into climbing Everest on Earth is comparable to climbing 1 cm on the surface of one of these stars. Even light on the surface is bent by the gravitational field, so you can see tens of degrees over the horizon, and clocks run at half the rate they do on Earth.

There's also a very strong gradient to the gravity so I wouldn't recommend going to visit a neutron star. The gravitational force on the lower part of your body is so much stronger than on the upper part that "spaghettification" and rupture take place. There's also some very interesting condensed matter physics. In brief, unlike any other kind of star that is a burning ball of gas, a neutron star is like a raw egg. It's got a solid shell on the outside and some very funny gooey liquids on the inside. More technically, the shell is believed to be an iron-56 polymer with a Young's modulus about 106 times that of steel. The very strong magnetic field --- about 108T --- makes the atoms in the star aspherical. The iron atoms lock together like tent poles, producing polymers. The polymers stick together and are incredibly strong.

Inside the crust is a region rich in neutrons. Elements that are radioactive here on Earth cannot decay in that regime, basically because beta decay is prevented. Go in a little bit farther and inverse beta decay takes place, so protons and electrons merge to give yet more neutrons and it gets even more neutron rich.

Inside that is a layer of neutron superfluid or probably two layers, one being S symmetry, the other being P symmetry. The core of the star we honestly aren't sure about. It may not be the same for all pulsars. Some may be solid, some may be liquid. The Fermi energy is high enough to create bosons so Bose-Einstein condensates are possible. Technically, the Fermi energy is probably high enough to create strange quarks. In short, you have a star 10 km across, weighing the same as the Sun, with immense magnetic and electric fields (108T and 109Vcm-1 respectively) spinning on its axis up to several hundred times per second. This is extreme physics.

There is more. The first planets discovered beyond the solar system were orbiting a pulsar. Why there are planets

round a pulsar is another question.

The roundest known thing in the universe is the orbit of a pulsar round its companion star. It’s round to 1 mm in the radius of the orbit. And if you drop anything on the surface of a neutron star, it hits the deck at half the speed of light. So, these are bizarre objects, hard to believe, but we are forced to believe in them."

Pliers, Pulsars and Extreme Physics

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