January 9, 2013
Chandra Captures Neutron Star Action
This movie from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a fast moving jet of particles produced by a rapidly rotating neutron star, and may provide new insight into the nature of some of the densest matter in the universe. The star of this movie is the Vela pulsar, a neutron star that was formed when a massive star collapsed. The Vela pulsar is about 1,000 light years from Earth, spansis about 12 miles in diameter, and makes over 11 complete rotations every second, faster than a helicopter rotor. As the pulsar whips around, it spews out a jet of charged particles that race out along the pulsar’s rotation axis at about 70% of the speed of light. In this still image from the movie, the location of the pulsar and the 0.7-light-year-long jet are labeled. The Chandra data shown in the movie, containing 8 images obtained between June and September 2010, suggest that the pulsar may be slowly wobbling, or precessing, as it spins.