Watch: Vela Pulsar Spews A Stream of High-Energy Particles
NASA's Chandra Observatory captured this four trillion mile-long jet spiraling off a rapidly spinning neutron star.
NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory captured this awesome video of the Vela pulsar, a rapidly rotating neutron star, spewing a long stream of high-energy particles into space:
The actual pulsar is just 12 miles across (see the labelled image below), but the stream of particles it’s emitting extends over 4 trillion miles into space. The pulsar’s enormous power comes from the fact that it is unimaginably dense: a thimble-full of neutron star has about the same mass as six billion people. (That’s because it formed after a giant star exploded 10,000 years ago, in a supernova that ripped apart atoms and sent everything lighter than the nucleus flying off into space. The remaining neutrons condensed to form the neutron star.)
Also, Vela is spinning faster than the rotor on a helicopter, at a rate of about 11 rotations per second. (That’s hard enough to imagine, but incredibly, there are pulsars that spin much more rapidly–the fastest currently known makes 716 rotations per second.)
You may have noticed the helix-like shape of the jet stream coming off of Vela–scientists think that means that the pulsar may be precessing, or wobbling, on its axis as it spins, like this: