Published January 13, 2015
Astronomers using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia have discovered a superbubble, the fastest-spinning pulsar ever observed and a magnetic field that resembles a Slinky.
The superbubble of hydrogen gas rises 10,000 light years above the Milky Way's plane.
Astronomer Jay Lockman said it is not unusual for hydrogen gas to be driven outward from the Milky Way's plane. But he said whatever drove the superbubble out must have been unusually violent.
"Finding this superbubble practically in our back yard is quite exciting, because these superbubbles are very important factors in how galaxies evolve," Lockman said.
The pulsar was found in a globular cluster of stars called Terzan 5 in the constellation Sagittarius, about 28,000 light years from Earth.
It spins 716 times per second, said Jason Hessels, a graduate student at McGill University in Montreal and a member of the research team that discovered the fast-spinning "millisecond" pulsar.
At that speed, the pulsar could not be more than 20 miles in diameter, Hessels and his colleagues contend.
"If it were any larger, material from the surface would be flung into orbit around the star," said Hessels.
Pulsars are spinning neutron stars that sling beams of radio waves or light around as they spin. Pulsars are left after massive stars explode, the NRAO said.
Thirty-three fast-spinning "millisecond" pulsars have been found in the same star cluster.
The coil-shaped magnetic field was found wrapped around a gas cloud in the constellation Orion.
"You can think of this structure as a giant, magnetic Slinky wrapped around a long, finger-like interstellar cloud," said Timothy Robishaw, a graduate student in astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley. "The magnetic field lines are like stretched rubber bands the tension squeezes the cloud into its filamentary shape."
The Green Bank telescope, at 100 meters in diameter, is the world's largest steerable radio telescope.