Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane, et al.
What's Tickling RCW 89?
The image above is a famous view of the bright X-ray nebula around a highly magnetized pulsar named PSR B1509-58, obtained by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The pulsar itself is the bright point of X-ray emission towards the bottom of the image, and has a noticeable "tail" or jet of X-ray emitting material extending below it. This pulsar, a chunk of about a sun's worth of material squeezed down to the diameter of the DC beltway, spins seven times every second and gives energy to its surroundings, in a similar manner to the better known Crab Nebula. The exchange of energy from the pulsar to its environment generates noticeable, ghostly fingers of X-rays extending more than 50 light-years into space. At the tips of these fingers lies a gas cloud known to astronomers as RCW 89. The apparently strong interaction between the pulsar-powered fingers and the cool gas in RCW 89 helps light up knots in RCW 89 and makes them glow in X-rays as well. Detailed study of the X-ray emitting knots in RCW 89 suggests a circular pattern in the temperature of the knots, which might be caused by the precession of the spin axis of the pulsar.
Published: June 13, 2011
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Sunday, 19-Jun-2011 14:26:31 EDT