Manatee Nebula Named For Its Resemblance To The Sea Cow
January 19, 2013

Introducing The Manatee Nebula: W50 Supernova Remnant Given New Nickname

[ Watch the Video: A Microquasar Makes a Giant Manatee Nebula ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Thanks to a powerful National Science Foundation (NSF) telescope and an observation made by one National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) official, the W50 nebula located approximately 18,000 light years away has a new name — the Manatee Nebula.

Images of the massive supernova remnant captured recently by the NSF´s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) closely resemble the aquatic creatures also known as sea cows — an observation made by Heidi Winter, the Executive Assistant to NRAO Director Tony Beasley, which led to a new nickname for nebula, officials from the Observatory announced on Saturday.

The Manatee Nebula, which was formed when a star in the constellation of Aquila exploded as a supernova some 20,000 years ago, will be officially unveiled to the public by the NRAO and the US Fish and Wildlife Service this weekend during the annual Manatee Festival in Crystal River, Florida.

When the star that formed W50 exploded, it expelled its outer gases in “an expanding bubble,” NRAO officials explained. “The remaining, gravitationally-crushed relic of that giant star, most likely a black hole, feeds on gas from a very close, companion star. The cannibalized gas collects in a disk around the black hole. The disk and black hole´s network of powerful magnetic field lines acts like an enormous railroad system to snag charged particles out of the disk and channel them outward in powerful jets traveling at nearly the speed of light.”

“This system of a black hole and its feeder star shines brightly in both radio waves and X-rays and is known collectively as the SS433 microquasar,” they added. “Over time, the micro quasar´s jets have forced their way through the expanding gases of the W50 bubble, eventually punching bulges outward on either side. The jets also wobble, like an unstable spinning top, and blaze vivid corkscrew patterns across the inflating bulges.”

The Manatee Nebula received its original name, W50, because it happened to be the 50th radio source listed in the Westerhout Catalog, which was assembled by Dutch astronomer Gart Westerhout in the late 1950s.

According to the Observatory, manatees are endangered creatures that “congregate in warm waters in the southeastern United States.” Those living in Florida are described as “gentle giants that average around 10 feet long, weigh over 1000 pounds, and spend up to eight hours a day grazing on sea plants.”

“They occupy the remainder of their day resting, often on their backs with their flippers crossed over their large bellies, in a pose closely resembling W50,” NRAO representatives added. “Dangerous encounters with boat propellers injure many of these curious herbivores, giving them deep, curved scars similar in appearance to the arcs made by the powerful jets on the large W50 remnant.”