Neutron Stars and Pulsars

If the star remnant left behind by a supernova explosion is massive enough, gravity ultimately crushes its protons and electrons together to form neutrons. The resulting neutron star can spin hundreds of times per second and has an intense rotating magnetic field that whips electrons and protons to nearly the speed of light.

These particles emit a narrow beam of gamma rays and other forms of radiation into space. As the star rotates, this beam may sweep past the Earth like the light from a cosmic lighthouse, making the star appear to pulse. This type of neutron star is known as a gamma-ray pulsar.

Crab nebulaCompare the pulsar-containing Crab nebula in gamma rays and visible light.

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