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Pulsar Winds Observed During Collision

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:49
Published on Wednesday, 01 March 2006 00:00
Astronomers have witnessed a never-seen-before event in observations by ESA’s XMM-Newton spacecraft - a collision between a pulsar and a ring of gas around a neighbouring star.

The rare passage, which took the pulsar plunging into and through this ring, illuminated the sky in gamma- and X-rays. It has revealed a remarkable new insight into the origin and content of ‘pulsar winds’, which has been a long-standing mystery.

The analysis is based on a new observation from XMM-Newton and a multitude of archived data which will lead to a better understanding of what drives well-known ‘pulsar nebulae’, such as the colourful Crab and Vela pulsars.

"Despite countless observations, the physics of pulsar winds have remained an enigma," said lead author Masha Chernyakova, of the Integral Science Data Centre, Versoix, Switzerland.

"Here we had the rare opportunity to see pulsar wind clashing with stellar wind. It is analogous to smashing something open to see what’s inside."

Pulsar 1259-63 orbits a star (SS 2883) which is bright and visible to amateur astronomers A pulsar is a fast-spinning core of a collapsed star that was once about 10 to 25 times more massive than our Sun. The dense core contains about a solar mass compacted in a sphere about 20 kilometres across.

The pulsar in this observation, called PSR B1259-63, is a radio pulsar, which means most of the time it emits only radio waves. The binary system lies in the general direction of the Southern Cross about 5000 light-years away.

The team observed PSR B1259-63 orbiting a ‘Be’ star named SS 2883, which is bright and visible to amateur astronomers. ‘Be’ stars, so named because of certain spectral characteristics, tend to be a few times more massive than our Sun and rotate at astonishing speeds.

A team led by Dr Masha Chernyakova of the Integral Science Data Centre, Versoix, Switzerland, discusses these results in an article in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

FULL STORY:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMK6HMVGJE_index_0.html

ARTICLE ABSTRACT:
http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/astro-ph/0601241T