Photo: Chandra image of the Vela pulsar (NASA/CXC/Penn State/G. Pavlov et al.)
An X-ray movie of the Vela pulsar, made from a series of observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, reveals a spectacularly erratic jet that varies in a way never seen before. The jet of high-energy particles whips about like an untended firehose at about half the speed of light. This behavior gives scientists new insight into the nature of jets from pulsars and black holes.
Chandra observed the Vela pulsar, a rotating neutron star, 13 times between January 2000 and August 2002. These observations, which were designed to study the nature of the outflow of matter and antimatter from the pulsar led to the discovery that an outer jet of particles was bending and moving sideways at phenomenal speeds.
"This jet is half a light year in length, and is shooting out ahead of the moving pulsar," said George Pavlov of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, lead author of a paper in the July 10th issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "The most striking thing about this jet is how rapidly it changes both its shape and brightness. Such strong, fast variability has never been observed in astrophysical jets."
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