IC 443

ic443The Jellyfish Nebula (aka IC 443,) is the remnant of a supernova about 5,000 light years from Earth. Chandra X-ray Telescope observations show that the explosion that created the Jellyfish Nebula may have also formed a rapidly spinning neutron star, or pulsar.

When a massive star runs out of thermonuclear fuel, it implodes and forms a dense stellar core called a neutron star. The outer layers of the star collapse into the neutron star then bounce outward in a supernova explosion. A spinning neutron star that produces a beam of radiation is called a pulsar. As the radiation sweeps around like light from a lighthouse, it can be detected as pulses of radio waves and other types of radiation.

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Image Credit: NASA

A Pulsar in M82

M82 PulsarAstronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million greater than the Sun. A pulsar is a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion, and this one is the brightest pulsar ever recorded. The discovery was made using the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. The pulsar is shown in pink at the center of the Messier 82 galaxy in this multi-wavelength image. NASA’s NuSTAR mission discovered the “pulse” of the pulsar using its high-energy X-ray vision.

Image Credit: NASA

A Supernova Remnant

DEM L 190These delicate filaments are actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small companion galaxy to the Milky Way visible from the southern hemisphere. This remnant, know as N49 or DEM L 190, is from a massive star that died in a supernova blast thousands of years ago. This filamentary material will eventually be recycled into building new generations of stars in the LMC. Our own Sun and planets were formed from similar debris of supernovae that exploded in our own galaxy billions of years ago.

These filaments harbor a very powerful spinning neutron star that may be the central remnant from the supernova. It is quite common for the core of an exploded supernova star to become a spinning neutron star (or pulsar) after the immediate shedding of the supernova’s outer layers.  The pulsar in N 49 is spinning at a rate of once every 8 seconds. It also has a super-strong magnetic field a thousand trillion times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. This places this star into the exclusive class of objects called “magnetars.”

Image Credit: NASA

A Glorious Cosmic Mess

This is the sort of glorious mess that is left when a star explodes. It’s the Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD. The nebula’s filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. This picture was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s a false color image, the three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. There’s a pulsar at its center—a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only few miles in diameter. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.

Image Credit: NASA