Most Energetic Pulse of Radiation Emission Ever Detected Spotted Coming from a Neutron Star

First Posted: Jan 12, 2016 01:50 PM EST

Scientists may have discovered the most energetic pulse of radiation emission ever detected. The new findings are largely due to the Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) observatory, which trained its sights on a neutron star in the center of a supernova.

The supernova itself is known as the Crab pulsar, which is the corpse left over when the star that created the Crab nebula exploded as a supernova. It has a mass that's about 1.5 times the mass of our sun concentrated in an object that's only about 10 kilometers in diameter and rotates about 30 times per second.

In this case, the pulsar is surrounded by a region of intense magnetic field that's ten thousand billion times stronger than that of the sun. In fact, the field is strong enough to dominate the motion of charges and forces them to rotate at the same rate as the stellar surface. This region is called the magnetosphere. The rotation of the magnetic field also generates intense electric fields that literally tear electrons from the surface. As these accelerated electrons stream outward, they produce beams of radiation that we receive every time the beam crosses our line of sight, like a lighthouse.

In 2011, the MAGIC and VERITAS observatories discovered unexpected very energetic photons.

"We performed deep observation of the Crab pulsar with MAGIC to understand this phenomenon, expecting to measure the maximum energy of the pulsating photons," said Emma de Oña Wilhelmi, one of the researchers, in a news release.

Roberta Zanin, one of the other researchers, continued by saying, "The new observations extend this tail to much higher, above TeV energies, that is, several times more energetic than the previous measurement, violating all the theory models believed to be at work in neutron stars."

The photons arrive in two precise beams that should be created far from the neutron star surface. Surprisingly, the TeV beams arrive at the same time as the radio and X-ray beams, which are likely produced within the magnetosphere.

"Where and how this TeV emission is created remains still unknown and difficult to reconcile with the standard theories," said Daniel Galindo Fernandez, one of the researchers.

With that said, this research does reveal a bit more about this pulsar, and paves the way for further studies.

The findings are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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