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NASA's Chandra Sees Runaway Pulsar Firing an Extraordinary Jet

For Release: February 18, 2014


IGR J11014-6103
X-ray: NASA/CXC/ISDC/L.Pavan et al, Radio: CSIRO/ATNF/ATCA Optical: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF
Press Image and Caption

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has seen a fast-moving pulsar escaping from a supernova remnant while spewing out a record-breaking jet – the longest of any object in the Milky Way galaxy -- of high-energy particles.

The pulsar, a type of neutron star, is known as IGR J11014-6103. IGR J11014-6103's peculiar behavior can likely be traced back to its birth in the collapse and subsequent explosion of a massive star.

Originally discovered with the European Space Agency satellite INTEGRAL, the pulsar is located about 60 light-years away from the center of the supernova remnant SNR MSH 11-61A in the constellation of Carina. Its implied speed is between 2.5 million and 5 million mph, making it one of the fastest pulsars ever observed.

"We've never seen an object that moves this fast and also produces a jet," said Lucia Pavan of the University of Geneva in Switzerland and lead author of a paper published Tuesday,in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. "By comparison, this jet is almost 10 times longer than the distance between the sun and our nearest star."

The X-ray jet in IGR J11014-6103 is the longest known in the Milky Way galaxy. In addition to its impressive span, it has a distinct corkscrew pattern that suggests the pulsar is wobbling like a spinning top.

IGR J11014-6103 also is producing a cocoon of high-energy particles that enshrouds and trails behind it in a comet-like tail. This structure, called a pulsar wind nebula, has been observed before, but the Chandra data show the long jet and the pulsar wind nebula are almost perpendicular to one another.

"We can see this pulsar is moving directly away from the center of the supernova remnant based on the shape and direction of the pulsar wind nebula," said co-author Pol Bordas, from the University of Tuebingen in Germany. "The question is, why is the jet pointing off in this other direction?"

Usually, the spin axis and jets of a pulsar point in the same direction as they are moving, but IGR J11014-6103's spin axis and direction of motion are almost at right angles.

"With the pulsar moving one way and the jet going another, this gives us clues that exotic physics can occur when some stars collapse," said co-author Gerd Puehlhofer also of the University of Tuebingen.

One possibility requires an extremely fast rotation speed for the iron core of the star that exploded. A problem with this scenario is that such fast speeds are not commonly expected to be achievable.

The supernova remnant that gave birth to IGR J11014-6013 is elongated from top-right to bottom-left in the image roughly in line with the jet's direction. These features and the high speed of the pulsar are hints that jets could have been an important feature of the supernova explosion that formed it.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

For Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

For an additional interactive image, podcast, and video on the finding, visit:

Media contacts:
J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington

Megan Watzke
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

Visitor Comments (8)

Wow Spectacular images of the universe - that something so deadly could look so intriguing and exquisite. But to see the why, the how, measure its nature, examine forces from the mind's eye and know without this violent torrent, we would not come to be. We are virtual tourists blind to the present peering deep in time to a cosmos developed so time can even exist.

None of this work product could be without the confluence of resources, interests, and human acceptance. I appreciate your conveyance, whoever you are, of these fine images.

Where are the anti-matter telescopes or the electromagnetic field imaging - a fine addition to the spectacular and informative photographs presented here. Perhaps they will be next presented here.

Posted by mike sales on Saturday, 04.26.14 @ 08:04am

Really cool.

Posted by isaac on Friday, 02.28.14 @ 11:56am

Dear Ivan,
Thanks very much for your good question. The answer is that the earlier image was based on a much shorter observation and only provided hints of a jet. Here's the original image release that we did:
which used a Chandra observation that was only about an hour and a half long. You can see hints of the jet, but it was too faint to determine what the feature really was.
The recent, follow-up Chandra observation reported here, was almost 14 hours long and provided much better data to see the faint jet, along with its corkscrew structure.

Posted by CXC on Friday, 02.28.14 @ 09:06am

The tail is 37 light years long. It's seriously screwing with my mind.
Well done team.

Posted by Greg Glynn on Thursday, 02.27.14 @ 19:08pm

If the jet's behavior is related to the wobbling of the pulsar, why would the stream maintain the corkscrew shape for 37 light years in length rather than dissipate in the vacuum of space? It seems plausible that the spiral motion of a charged particle in a magnetic field could be applied to this jet. The magnetic field would be a result of interstellar Birkeland currents, which also exhibits a kink instability in this example.

Posted by Ross on Thursday, 02.27.14 @ 00:26am

Cool, cool.
It is fun to think that in the visible light you can see stars normally, but in the X-ray wavelengths you see that there is much more than just stars.

Posted by Gabriel on Saturday, 02.22.14 @ 16:43pm

Many thanks for the above data. it helps confirmation through Space cosmology Vedas Interlinks
23,000 LY region as a drive to 2300 LY data.

Posted by Vidyardhi Nnduri on Friday, 02.21.14 @ 12:04pm

Thank you for the hard work you personal are doing. I am from Houston, I am an amateur astronomer and I have a question. I know you are super busy but please try to answer me. About this new release of the pulsar firing a jet, it happen to be another image of the same body but without the jet. Here I let the link so you can see it. How is possible that this new image was release few days ago And how is that the image release on 2012 looks the same with out the jet. Thank you for reading this.

Posted by ivan moreno on Thursday, 02.20.14 @ 00:41am