Wind Nebula Discovered Around Rare Ultra-Magnetic Neutron Star, A First
For the first time ever, astronomers have discovered a vast cloud of high-energy particles called a wind nebula around a rare ultra-magnetic neutron star.
A neutron star is the crushed core of a massive star that ran out of fuel, collapsed under its own weight, and exploded as a supernova, which are the strongest magnets in the universe.
After reviewing the discovery of a newly found nebula which surrounds a magnetar known as Swift J1834.9-0846, a team researcher George Younes, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University in Washington found an unusual lopsided glow about 15 light-years across centered on the magnetar.
By using the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, coupled with archival data from XMM-Newton and Swift, the team concluded that this extended glow is the first evidence of a wind nebula ever identified around a magnetar.
Co-author Chryssa Kouveliotou, a professor in the Department of Physics at George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, adds “For me, the most interesting question is, why is this the only magnetar with a nebula? Once we know the answer, we might be able to understand what makes a magnetar and what makes an ordinary pulsar.”
A pulsar taps into its rotational energy to produce light and accelerate its pulsar wind, while a magnetar outburst is powered by energy stored in the super-strong magnetic field and during these outbursts, they are capable of generating brief gales of accelerated particles.
Co-author Alice Harding, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland explains “Making a wind nebula requires large particle fluxes, as well as some way to bottle up the outflow so it doesn’t just stream into space. We think the expanding shell of the supernova remnant serves as the bottle, confining the outflow for a few thousand years. When the shell has expanded enough, it becomes too weak to hold back the particles, which then leak out and the nebula fades away.”
This unique opportunity to study the magnetar’s historical activity is groundbreaking for scientists and a paper describing the analysis will be published by The Astrophysical Journal.