Astronomers using ESA’s X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, have discovered a pair of X-ray tails, stretching 3 million million kilometres across the sky. They emanate from the mysterious neutron star known as Geminga. The discovery gives astronomers new insight into the extraordinary conditions around the neutron star.
This image was captured by the EPIC camera on board the satellite. The motion of Geminga across the sky is indicated, showing that the tails are trailing the neutron star. The scale bar corresponds to a distance of 1.5 million million kilometres at the distance of Geminga.
A neutron star measures only 20-30 kilometres across and is the dense remnant of an exploded star. Geminga is one of the closest to Earth, at a distance of about 500 light-years. Most neutron stars emit radio emissions, appearing to pulsate like a lighthouse, but Geminga is "radio-quiet". It does, however, emit huge quantities of pulsating gamma rays making it one of the brightest gamma-ray sources in the sky. Geminga is the only example of a successfully identified gamma-ray source from which astronomers have gained significant knowledge.
It is 350 000 years old and ploughs through space at 120 kilometres per second. Its route creates a shockwave that compresses the gas of the interstellar medium and its naturally embedded magnetic field by a factor of four.
Franco Bonancia | alfa
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