Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Pulsar Racing Through Space Reveals Comet-Like Trail


A team led by Dr. Patrizia Caraveo of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Milan discovered this cometary trail with data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory Archive. The discovery follows the team’s discovery in 2003 using ESA’s XMM-Newton of Geminga’s twin X-ray tails stretching for billions of chilometers.

Together, these observations provide unique insight into the contents and density of the interstellar "ocean" Geminga is plowing through, as well as the physics of Geminga itself. Not only is Geminga close, only about 500 light years from Earth, it is cutting across our line of sight, offering a spectacular view of a pulsar in motion.

"Geminga is the only isolated pulsar we know of showing both a small comet-like trail and a larger tail structure," said Dr. Andrea De Luca of INAF’s Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, lead author on an article about this discovery in Astronomy & Astrophysics. "This jettison from Geminga’s journey through interstellar space provides unprecedented information about the physics of pulsars."

A pulsar is a type of rapidly spinning neutron star that emits steady pulses of radiation with each rotation, funnelled along strong magnetic field lines, much like a lighthouse beam sweeping across space. A neutron star is the core remains of an exploded star once at least eight times as massive as the sun.

These dense stars, only about 20 kilometers across, still contain roughly the mass of the sun. Neutron stars contain the densest material known. Like many neutron stars, Geminga got a "kick" from the explosion that created it and has been flying through space like a cannonball ever since.

De Luca said that Geminga’s complex phenomenology of tails and a trail must be from high-energy electrons escaping the pulsar magnetosphere following paths clearly driven by the pulsar’s motion in the interstellar medium.

Most pulsars emit radio waves. Yet Geminga is "radio quiet" and was discovered 30 years ago as a unique "gamma-ray only" source (only later was Geminga seen in the X-ray and optical light wavebands). Geminga generates gamma rays by accelerating electrons and positrons, a type of antimatter, to high speeds as it spins like a dynamo four times per second.

"Astronomers have known that only a fraction of these accelerated particles produce gamma rays, and they have wondered what happens to the remaining ones," said Caraveo, a co-author on the Astronomy & Astrophysics article. "Thanks to the combined capabilities of Chandra and XMM-Newton, we now know that such particles can escape. Once they reach the shock front, created by the supersonic motion of the star, the particles lose their energy radiating X-rays."

Meanwhile, an equal number of particles (with a different electric charge) should move in the opposite direction, aiming back at the star. Indeed, when they hit the star’s crust they create tiny hotspots, which have been detected through their varying X-ray emission.

The next generation of high-energy gamma-ray instruments - namely, the planned Italian Space Agency’s AGILE mission and NASA’s GLAST mission - will explore the connection between the X-ray and gamma ray behaviour of pulsars to provide clues to the nature of unknown gamma-ray sources, according to Prof. Giovanni Bignami, a co-author and director of the Centre d’Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements (CESR) in Toulouse, France. Of the 271 higher-energy gamma-ray objects detected by a NASA telescope called EGRET, 170 remained unidentified in other wavebands. These unidentified objects could be "gamma-ray pulsars" like Geminga, whose optical and X-ray light might be visible only because of its nearness to Earth.

Only about a dozen other radio-quiet isolated neutron stars are known, and Geminga is the only one with tails and trails and copious gamma-ray emission. Bignami named Geminga for "Gemini gamma-ray source" in 1973. In his local Milan dialect, the name is a pun on "ghè minga," which means "it is not there." Indeed, Geminga was unidentified in other wavelengths until 1993, twenty years after its discovery.

The discovery team also includes Drs. Fabio Mattana and Alberto Pellizzoni of the INAF - Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica.

Patrizia Caraveo | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1
21.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Hochfrequenzphysik und Radartechnik FHR

nachricht Taming chaos: Calculating probability in complex systems
21.03.2018 | American Institute of Physics

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>