Over a Million Miles Per Hour: NASA's Chandra Captures Pulses in X-ray Trap

Over a Million Miles Per Hour: NASA’s Chandra Captures Pulses in X-ray Trap

Supernovarest G292.0 + 1.8

The G292.0 + 1.8 supernova remnants contain a pulse that moves at over one million miles per hour, which is seen in the Chandra image along with an optical image from the Digitalized Sky Survey. Pulsars are fast-spinning neutron stars that can form when massive stars run out of fuel, collapse and explode. Sometimes these explosions produce a “kick”, which sent this pulses at breakneck speed through the remnants of the supernova explosion. Additional images show a close-up of this pulse in X-rays from Chandra, who observed it in both 2006 and 2016 to measure this remarkable speed. The red crosses in each panel show the position of the pulsar in 2006. Credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / SAO / L. Xi et al .; Optical: Palomar DSS2

  • A
    pulsar
    First observed at radio frequencies, a pulsar is a rotating neutron star that emits regular pulses of radiation. Astronomers developed three categories of pulsars: accretion-driven pulsars, rotational-driven pulsars, and nuclear-powered pulsars; and has since observed them at X-ray, optical and gamma-ray energies.

    “data-gt-translate-attributes =”[{” attribute=””>pulsar is racing through the debris of an exploded star at a speed of over a million miles per hour.

  • To measure this, researchers compared

The G292.0 + 1.8 supernova remnants contain a pulsar that moves at over one million miles per hour. This image contains data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (red, orange, yellow and blue), which was used to make this discovery. The X-rays were combined with an optical image from the Digitalized Sky Survey, a ground-based survey of the entire sky.

The pulsars spin quickly neutron stars which can form when massive stars run out of fuel, collapse and explode. Sometimes these explosions produce a “kick”, which is what sent this pulsating at breakneck speed through the remnants of the supernova explosion. An inset shows a close-up of this pulse in X-rays from Chandra.

To make this discovery, the researchers compared Chandra images of G292.0 + 1.8 taken in 2006 and 2016. A couple of complementary images show the change in the position of the pulsar during the 10-year period. The displacement in the position of the source is small because the pulsar is about 20,000 light-years from Earth, but it traveled about 120 billion miles (190 billion km) during this period. The researchers were able to measure this by combining Chandra’s high-resolution images with an accurate technique to check the coordinates of the pulsar and other X-ray sources using exact positions from the Gaia satellite.

Pulsar Positions, 2006 & 2016

Pulsar Positions, 2006 & 2016. Credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / SAO / L. Xi et al.

The team estimated that the pulsar moves at least 1.4 million miles per hour from the center of the supernova remnant to the lower left. This velocity is about 30% higher than a previous estimate of the pulsar’s velocity based on an indirect method, by measuring how far the pulsar is from the center of the explosion.

The pulsar’s recently determined velocity indicates that G292.0 + 1.8 and its pulses may be significantly younger than astronomers previously thought. Scientists estimate that G292.0 + 1.8 would have exploded about 2,000 years ago as seen from Earth, rather than 3,000 years ago as previously estimated. This new estimate of the age G292.0 + 1.8 is based on extrapolating the position of the pulsar backwards in time so that it coincides with the center of the explosion.

Several civilizations around the world recorded supernova explosions at that time, which opened up the possibility that G292.0 + 1.8 was observed immediately. However, G292.0 + 1.8 is below the horizon for most civilizations in the northern hemisphere that may have observed it, and there are no recorded examples of a supernova being observed in the southern hemisphere in the direction of G292.0 + 1.8.

G292 + 1.8 Close-up

A close-up of the center of the Chandra image of the G292 + 1.8. The direction of movement of the pulsar is displayed (arrow), and the position of the center of the explosion (green oval) based on the movement of debris seen in optical data. The position of the pulsar is extrapolated back 3,000 years and the triangle depicts the uncertainty in the angle of the extrapolation. Correspondence between the extrapolated position and the center of the explosion gives an age of about 2,000 years for the pulsar and G292 + 1.8. The center of mass (cross) of X-ray detected elements in the debris (Si, S, Ar, Ca) is on the opposite side of the center of the explosion from the moving pulsar. This asymmetry in the debris at the top right of the explosion resulted in the pulsar being kicked down to the left, by maintaining momentum. Credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / SAO / L. Xi et al .; Optical: Palomar DSS2

In addition to learning more about the age G292.0 + 1.8, the research team also investigated how the supernova gave the pulsar its powerful kick. There are two main possibilities, both mean that material is not ejected by the supernova evenly in all directions. It’s a possibility neutriner which is produced in the explosion is ejected from the explosion asymmetrically, and the other is that the debris from the explosion is ejected asymmetrically. If the material has a preferred direction, the pulsar will be kicked in the opposite direction due to the principle of physics called conservation of momentum.

The amount of asymmetry of neutrinos required to explain the high velocity in this latest result would be extreme, supporting the explanation that asymmetry in the explosion debris gave the pulsar its kick.

The energy given to the pulsar from this explosion was gigantic. Even though it is only about 10 miles across, the mass of the pulsar is 500,000 times that of the earth and it travels 20 times faster than the speed of the earth orbiting the sun.

The latest work by Xi Long and Paul Plucinksky (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian) on G292.0 + 1.8 was presented at the 240th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena, CA. The results are also discussed in an article that has been approved for publication in The Astrophysical Journal. The other authors of the article are Daniel Patnaude and Terrance Gaetz, both from the Center for Astrophysics.

Reference: “The Proper Motion of the Pulsar J1124-5916 in the Galactic Supernova Remnant G292.0 + 1.8” by Xi Long, Daniel J. Patnaude, Paul P. Plucinsky and Terrance J. Gaetz, Accepted, The Astrophysical Journal.
arXiv: 2205.07951

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center handles the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center monitors science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.


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