Astronomers Spot Fastest Moving Pulsar Ever
June 29, 2012

Astronomers Spot Fastest Moving Pulsar Ever

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Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers may have discovered the fastest moving pulsar ever seen using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton.

Astronomers used X-ray observations, combined with infrared data from the 2MASS project and optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey to find evidence for the record-breaking pulsar.

The XMM-Newton image was produced when a massive star exploded as a supernova, leaving behind a debris field.  Shock waves from the supernova heated surrounding gas to several million degrees Kelvin, causing the remnant to glow brightly in X-rays.

The Chandra image reveals a comet-shaped X-ray source outside the boundary of the supernova remnant. The source for this X-ray consists of a point-like object with a long tail trailing behind it for about 3 light years.

The point-like X-ray source, IGR J11014, was discovered by the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL). It may be a rapidly spinning star that was ejected during the explosion, according to NASA.

The space agency said the source for the tail of X-ray emission is that a pulsar wind nebula has been swept behind a bow shock created by the pulsar's high speed.

The elongated emission is pointing towards the center of MSH 11-61A, where the pulsar would have been formed. This supports the idea that the Chandra image is of a pulsar wind nebular and its bow shock, according to NASA.

"Another interesting feature of the Chandra image, also seen with XMM-Newton, is the faint X-ray tail extending to the top-right," NASA reported. "The cause of this feature is unknown, but similar tails have been seen from other pulsars that also do not line up with the pulsar's direction of motion."

Astronomers believe the age of MSH 11-61A is about 15,000 years. They say it lies at a distance of about 30,000 light years away from Earth.

"Combining these values with the distance that the pulsar has appeared to have traveled from the center of the MSH 11-61A, astronomers estimate that IGR J11014 is moving at a speed between 5.4 million and 6.5 million miles per hour," the space agency said.

"One important caveat in the conclusion that IGR J11014 may be the fastest moving pulsar is that pulsations have not been detected in it during a search with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Parkes radio telescope."

The results of this observation were published in the May 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.