Crab Nebula responsible for giant radio pulses & X-ray surges
CNN — The hauntingly spectacular Crab Nebula, nearly 6,000 light-years away, is releasing an incredible amount of energy. (One light year is six trillion miles.)
The nebula is six light-years wide, and it’s a growing cloud of debris formed from a supernova explosion, which is what happens when a star blows up. The light produced by the supernova first reached Earth in July 1054 and was witnessed by astronomers in Japan and China.
When the star exploded, it formed a neutron star, which is the dense core of a star that is about the size of a city like Chicago. This started to spin rapidly — about 30 times a second — and is emitting light in X-rays and radio wavelengths that is visible in our sky.
It releases bright millisecond-long pulses of radio waves, called giant radio pulses, that are accompanied by X-ray surges.
The pulsar in the Crab Nebula could be as much as hundreds of times more energetic than researchers previously believed, according to a study published last week in the journal Science.
How the nebula discovery was made
A global team of scientists made the discovery using data from NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer telescope which is located on the International Space Station.
The NICER telescope observed the Crab Nebula’s pulsar between August 2017 and August 2019.
“Out of more than 2,800 pulsars cataloged, the Crab pulsar is one of only a few that emit giant radio pulses, which occur sporadically and can be hundreds to thousands of times brighter than the regular pulses,” said Teruaki Enoto, study author and team leader at the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research in Wako, Saitama prefecture, Japan, in a statement. “After decades of observations, only the Crab has been shown to enhance its giant radio pulses with emission from other parts of the spectrum.”
The researchers were able to look at the largest amount of X-ray and radio data ever collected from a pulsar.
The team collectively captured 3.7 million pulsar rotations and 26,000 giant radio pulses from the pulsar.
Giant radio pulses happen within the millionth of a second and can be unpredictable — until they occur. Then, they release regular pulses. The precision of NICER allowed for the recording of X-rays within 100 nanoseconds of detection.
Unlocking a space mystery
Understanding more about these giant radio pulses could provide insight about mysterious fast radio bursts that travel millions and billions of light-years to reach Earth.
Some scientists believe that the mechanics behind the origin of giant radio pulses from pulsars may also be the same as the origin of fast radio bursts. These bursts, known as FRBs, are also millisecond-long radio signals and some of them have even been traced back to their source and have known to repeat. But their origins are unknown.
It is thought that these fast radio bursts, which occur outside of our galaxy, have also been associated with pulsars.
“However, the relationship between the two is still controversial, and these findings, along with upcoming discoveries regarding fast radio bursts, will help us to understand the relationship between these phenomena,” Enoto said.
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