Star makes shock waves in 'X-ray'-ted flick


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By Richard Stenger
Thursday, September 19, 2002 Posted: 7:25 PM EDT (2325 GMT)[/siz]

(CNN) -- A strange star the size of Manhattan made its cinematic debut this week, spinning, pulsing and spawning shock waves in a two-part movie shot by the premier telescopes in space.

The cinematic study of the neutron star and surrounding Crab Nebula could help astronomers figure out what powers the strange class of objects, which spit out matter and antimatter at half the speed of light.


The nebula has been a favorite of astronomers since Chinese sky watchers identified it in 1054 AD. But the object revealed previously unseen features in short flicks from the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory.

"We can see how this awesome cosmic generator actually works," Jeff Hester of Arizona State University in Tempe said Wednesday. "The Crab Nebula has really come to life."

Hester, lead author of a report about the nebula in the September 20 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and colleagues presented their findings at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The movies are comprised of still images taken between August 2000 and April 2001. The Hubble watched in visible light and Chandra used its X-ray vision.

Both document the tumultuous world of the Crab Nebula. Strands of glowing material expand in a halo, which seem to sprout from a shock wave in the interior that shows up in the X-ray images as a tiny ring, the scientists said.

A strong jet perpendicular to the rings presents a dramatic twist.

"The jet looks like steam from a high presser boiler, except when you realize you are looking at a stream of matter and antimatter electrons moving at half the speed of light," said co-author David Burrows of Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

A neutron star is a massive star that has blown up in a supernova. The explosion casts off the outer layers, creating a glowing shell of gas and dust, or nebula, often with beautiful results.

The stellar core collapses under intense gravity pressure and its protons and electrons fuse together into neutrons, giving the star its name.

Neutron stars that rotate rapidly, like the one inside the Crab Nebula, are also known as pulsars.

Source: HERE