Scientists have mapped the iconic Crab Nebula’s magnetic field in greater detail than ever before using NASA’s latest X-ray telescope.
Located 6,500 light-years from Earth, the Crab Nebula is the remnant of a massive stellar explosion, or supernova, which occurred in the year 1054 and left behind a dense object called Crab Pulsar with a mass about twice that of Earth’s sun. This nebula is one of the most studied cosmic objects, but new observations suggest that it is far more complex than scientists thought.
NASA usage X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explore (IXPE), Niccolò Bucciantini at the INAF Arcetri observatory in Italy and his colleagues were able to trace the magnetic field of the Crab Nebula, revealing unexpected patches and asymmetric areas of turbulence, according to A declaration (opens in a new tab) of the space agency.
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“This is a clear indication that even the most complex models developed in the past, with the use of advanced numerical techniques, do not fully capture the complexity of this object,” said Bucciantini, lead author of a new study. detailing the IXPE observations. in the statement.
The Crab Pulsar – a spinning neutron star with jets of radiation spewing from its poles – lies at the center of the nebula, surrounded by gas, shock waves, strong magnetic fields, and high-energy light and particles, collectively known as pulsar wind nebula. NASA’s Earth-orbiting IXPE satellite, which launched on December 9, 2021, helped unravel the chaotic environment of the pulsar, which was not well understood before.
The IXPE space telescope is designed to examine the polarization of cosmic X-rays. Polarization measures the direction in which light waves oscillate, which is largely influenced by the magnetic field. Therefore, by measuring the Crab Nebula’s X-ray polarization, the researchers were able to map the direction of the magnetic field in different parts of the nebula, as well as the order of the magnetic field, according to the statement.
Data collected by IXPE shows that X-rays come from the region of the external magnetic field, called the “wind” region, and within the magnetic field around the pulsar, from which the shocks accelerate the particles up to near the speed of light. However, further observations are needed to fully understand the origin of these X-rays.
“The Crab is one of the most studied high-energy astrophysical objects in the sky, so it’s extremely exciting that we can learn something new about this system by looking through IXPE’s ‘polarized lenses’,” Michela Negro, study co-author and a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the statement.
Their findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy. You can read the newspaper for free on the online preprint site arXiv.org (opens in a new tab).
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