IGR J11014-6103: a runaway pulsar firing an extraordinary jet

A pulsar moving at supersonic speeds about 23,000 light years from Earth.
Image and text credit: NASA/Chandra X-ray observatory

The pulsar, originally discovered by ESA’s INTEGRAL satellite, is called IGR J11014-6103 and is moving away from the center of the supernova remnant where it was born at a speed between 2.5 million and 5 million miles per hour. This supersonic pace makes IGR J11014-6103 one of the fastest moving pulsars ever observed. A massive star ran out of fuel and collapsed to form the pulsar along with the supernova remnant, the debris field seen as the large purple structure in the upper left of the image. The supernova remnant (known as SNR MSH 11-61A) is elongated along the top-right to bottom left direction, roughly in line with the tail’s direction. These features and the high speed of the pulsar suggest that jets could have played an important role in the supernova explosion that formed IGR J11014-6103.

In addition to its exceptional length, the tail behind IGR J11014-6103 has other interesting characteristics. For example, there is a distinct corkscrew pattern in the jet. This pattern suggests that the pulsar is wobbling like a top as it spins, while shooting off the jet of particles. Another interesting feature of this image is a structure called a pulsar wind nebula (PWN), a cocoon of high-energy particles that enshrouds the pulsar and produces a comet-like tail behind it. Astronomers had seen the PWN in previous observations, but the new Chandra and ATCA data show that the PWN is almost perpendicular to the direction of the jet. This is intriguing because usually the pulsar’s direction of motion, its jet, and its PWN are aligned with one another. One possibility requires an extremely fast rotation speed for the iron core of the star that exploded as the supernova. A problem with this scenario is that such fast speeds are not commonly expected to be achievable.

Image credits: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA  The surface of Mars never ceases to astound, as seen in this new image from the orbiter (courtesy APOD). There have been two recent discoveries at the outer edges of the solar system: an asteroid with rings, 10199 Chariklo, discovered during an occultation, and a new body, 2012 VP113, never closer than eighty astronomical units from the Sun.


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