Ferocious Wind Nebula Around Magnetar Observed for First Time

Giving us a rare, unique window into the environment and emission history of the strongest magnets in the cosmos

This X-ray image shows extended emission around a source known as Swift J1834.9-0846, a rare ultra-magnetic neutron star called a magnetar. The glow arises from a cloud of fast-moving particles produced by the neutron star and corralled around it. Color indicates X-ray energies, with 2,000-3,000 electron volts (eV) in red, 3,000-4,500 eV in green, and 5,000 to 10,000 eV in blue. The image combines observations by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton spacecraft taken on March 16 and Oct. 16, 2014. Credits: ESA/XMM-Newton/Younes et al. 2016
This X-ray image shows extended emission around a source known as Swift J1834.9-0846, a rare ultra-magnetic neutron star called a magnetar. The glow arises from a cloud of fast-moving particles produced by the neutron star and corralled around it. Color indicates X-ray energies, with 2,000-3,000 electron volts (eV) in red, 3,000-4,500 eV in green, and 5,000 to 10,000 eV in blue. The image combines observations by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft taken on March 16 and Oct. 16, 2014.
Credits: ESA/XMM-Newton/Younes et al. 2016

Space news (astrophysics: wind nebulas; Swift J1834.9-0846) – 13,000 light-years toward the constellation Scutum in the midst of a vast cloud of high-energy, particles surrounding supernova remnant W41 –

Astronomers studying the strongest magnets discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, magnetars, have detected one they haven’t seen before. A magnetar, a rare highly magnetic neutron star with a vast cloud of high-energy, recently-emitted particles called a wind nebula streaming from it. Offering a unique window into the characteristics, environment and emission history of one of the most enigmatic and eye-opening objects ever detected.

“Right now, we don’t know how J1834.9 developed and continues to maintain a wind nebula, which until now was a structure only seen around young pulsars,” said lead researcher George Younes, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University in Washington. “If the process here is similar, then about 10 percent of the magnetar’s rotational energy loss is powering the nebula’s glow, which would be the highest efficiency ever measured in such a system.”

This illustration compares the size of a neutron star to Manhattan Island in New York, which is about 13 miles long. A neutron star is the crushed core left behind when a massive star explodes as a supernova and is the densest object astronomers can directly observe. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
This illustration compares the size of a neutron star to Manhattan Island in New York, which is about 13 miles long. A neutron star is the crushed core left behind when a massive star explodes as a supernova and is the densest object astronomers can directly observe.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

An object around 13 miles (20 kilometers) in diameter, or about the length of Manhattan Island, only 29 magnetars have been detected, so far. In this particular case, the source of detected emissions is called Swift J1834.9-0846, a rare type of ultra-magnetic neutron star detected by the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Satellite on August 7, 2011. It was subsequently looked at closer a month later by a team led by Younes using the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory. It was at this time astronomers realized and confirmed the first wind nebula ever detected around a magnetar.

“For me, the most interesting question is, why is this the only magnetar with a nebula? Once we know the answer, we might be able to understand what makes a magnetar and what makes an ordinary pulsar,” said co-author Chryssa Kouveliotou, a professor in the Department of Physics at George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Neutron stars are the crushed cores of massive stars left over after they have gone supernova and the densest objects astrophysicists have been able to directly observe during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. All neutron star magnetic fields detected, so far, are 100 to 10 trillion times stronger than Earth’s, and magnetar fields reach levels thousands of times stronger. Astrophysicists have no ideas on how magnetic fields of such immense strength are formed. 

 co-author Alice Harding, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Credits: NASA
Co-author Alice Harding, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Credits: NASA

“Making a wind nebula requires large particle fluxes, as well as some way to bottle up the outflow so it doesn’t just stream into space,” said co-author Alice Harding, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We think the expanding shell of the supernova remnant serves as the bottle, confining the outflow for a few thousand years. When the shell has expanded enough, it becomes too weak to hold back the particles, which then leak out and the nebula fades away. This naturally explains why wind nebulae are not found among older pulsars, even those driving strong outflows.

“The nebula around J1834.9 stores the magnetar’s energetic outflows over its whole active history, starting many thousands of years ago,” said team member Jonathan Granot, an associate professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Open University in Ra’anana, Israel. “It represents a unique opportunity to study the magnetar’s historical activity, opening a whole new playground for theorists like me.”

What’s next?

Astrophysicists think a magnetar outburst’s powered by energy stored in its super-strong magnetic field produced gamma rays and x-rays, along with the gales of accelerated particles making up the nebula wind detected in the case of Swift J1834.9-0846. Now, they have a mystery to figure out, and new theories to deduce to explain the way a magnetar produces a nebula wind. 

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Read about NASA’s Juno spacecraft’s five year journey to Jupiter.

Join NASA’s journey to the beginning of space and time here.

Learn more about neutron stars.

Read more about magnetars here.

Discover NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Learn more about the discoveries of NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Satellite here.

Read more about Swift J1834.9-0846.

Read about the work of the European Space Agency here.

Discover the ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory.

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Magnetar Extremely Close to Supermassive Black Hole at Center of Milky Way

Exhibiting a higher surface temperature and slower decrease in the rate of x-rays emitted than previous neutron stars detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time

The x-ray image here taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a view of the region surrounding the supermassive black hole thought to exist at the center of the Milky Way. The red, green and blue seen in the main image are low, medium and high-energy x-rays respectively. The inset image to the left was taken between 2005 and 2008, when the magnetar wasn't detected. The image to the right was taken in 2013, when the neutron star appeared as the bright x-ray source viewed.
The x-ray image here taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a view of the region surrounding the supermassive black hole thought to exist at the center of the Milky Way. The red, green and blue seen in the main image are low, medium and high-energy x-rays respectively. The inset image to the left was taken between 2005 and 2008, when the magnetar wasn’t detected. The image to the right was taken in 2013, when the neutron star appeared as the bright x-ray source viewed.

Space news (August 15, 2015) –

Space scientists working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory in 2013 discovered a magnetar dangerously close to the supermassive black hole (Sagittarius A) thought to exist at the center of the Milky Way. At a distance of around 0.3 light-years or 2 trillion miles from the 4-million-solar mass black hole, the neutron star (called SGR 1745-2900) detected is likely orbiting slowly into the gravitational pool of the supermassive black hole. One day, far in the future, the two will merge during an event likely spectacular and unfathomable to both the scientist and layperson.

For the last two years, NASA and European space agency scientists have been monitoring SGR 1745-2900, and have discovered its acting unlike any magnetar discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

The rate of X-rays emitted by the magnetar is decreasing slower than other neutron stars viewed and its surface temperature is higher. Facts that are making astrophysicists rethink their theories on neutron stars and develop new ideas to explain how this happens.

Could the close proximity of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A be the cause?

Considering the extreme distance between the supermassive black hole and magnetar, astrophysicists don’t think this could be the reason for the slower decrease in X-ray emissions and higher surface temperature of SGR 1745-2900. At the distance of 2 trillion miles, they believe the magnetar is too far away for the gravity and magnetic fields of the two to interact enough for this to occur.

The current model developed by astrophysicists to explain the unexpected slower rate of X-ray emissions and higher surface temperature of SGR 1745-2900 involves “starquakes”. Seismic waves astrophysicists think are more energetic than a 23rd magnitude earthquake on Earth, scientists found the starquake model doesn’t explain the slow decrease in X-ray brightness and the higher surface temperature detected.

To explain the new data obtained through study using the Chandra X-ray Observatory NASA astrophysicists have suggested a new model. The bombardment of the surface of SGR 1745-2900 by charged particles trapped within magnetic fields above its surface could add enough heat to account for the higher surface temperature and account for the slower decrease in X-ray emissions.

Study continues

NASA scientists will now continue their study of magnetar SGR 1745-2900 as it orbits Sagittarius A looking for clues to verify their new model. Study and understanding of this and other magnetars will provide clues to the events that occurred during the earliest moments of the universe. Events that can tell us more about the universe we reside in and the true nature of spacetime.

You can learn more about supermassive black holes here.

Read and learn more about magnetars here.

You can read about and follow NASA’s mission to the stars here.

Read about some of the discoveries made by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its visit to Pluto.

Learn more about the human search for Earth 2.0.

Learn about and take part in the search for near-Earth objects space scientists indicate could be a problem in the future.

Rosetta Spacecraft Set to Deploy Lander to Surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

The Rosetta spacecraft uses its 11 scientific instruments to study the surface of comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
The Rosetta spacecraft uses its 11 scientific instruments to study the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Credits: NASA

After a decade traveling through the solar system, Rosetta is preparing to write history 

This image taken by Rosetta shows the primary landing site of Philae
This image taken by Rosetta shows the primary landing site of Philae. Credits: ESA/Rosetta

The image above shows the primary landing site of Philae, Rosetta’s lander, which is expected to make a soft landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko at Site J, or backup Site C, on Nov. 12, 2014. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta

Between Mars and Jupiter (Oct. 11, 2014) –

After two weeks of analysis of possible trajectories the flight dynamics and operations teams of the European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to make the first soft landing of a robot on a comet on Nov. 12, 2014. Expectations are for Rosetta to release Philae at around 08:35 UTC (12:35 a.m PST; 9:35 a.m. Central European Time), if Site J is the target, at a height of 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) above the center of the comet.

Philae will release from Rosetta on Nov. 12 and hopefully make a soft landing on comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Philae will release from Rosetta on Nov. 12 and hopefully, make a soft landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Image credit: ESA

If all goes as expected, Philae should make a soft landing about seven hours later, around 7:35 a.m. PST. Here on Earth, mission specialists will get the confirmation of a successful landing 28 minutes and 20 seconds later, due to the time it takes the signal to travel between Rosetta and the Earth. This means we should get word on whether Philae made a successful landing around 16:00 UTC (8 a.m PST; 5 p.m CET).

Should the decision be made to try for backup Site C, instead of Site J, the lander will be released at 13:04 UTC (5:04 a.m. PST; 2:04 p.m. CET) at a distance of about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) from the center of the comet?

In the backup scenario, Philae should land about four hours after release, which means the confirmation signal should arrive at Earth somewhere around 17:30 UTC (9:30 a.m. PST; 6:30 p.m CET). All times are estimates subject to uncertainties of minutes.

The Rosetta team will make a final decision on the landing site on October 14, 2014, after they review the lander to see if it’s ready for launch, and take a look at the high-resolution images of the landing sites they’ll take between now and Nov. 12.

During the week including Oct. 14, the ESA is planning on having a contest to determine the best name for the landing site selected. This is your chance to stamp your name on Rosetta and its mission. Check the Rosetta mission website to sign up for the competition and check out the rules.

A joint space mission spearheaded by the European Space Agency, but with help from NASA and friends, the Rosetta Space Mission is expected to enlighten us about the origins of comets and possibly life on Earth. Comets are time capsules containing material left over from the time when the solar system and Earth were being formed. Scientists will study the gas, dust, and structure of the interior of the comet to unlock secrets about the past, evolution and possible future of Earth and the solar system. They also hope to shine a light on the origins of Earth’s water and how life came to exist on one out of the way little planet in the middle of nowhere.

After Philae has landed, it will begin to study the comet up close using 10 scientific instruments. Rosetta will continue to study the comet and its composition and structure over the next year and a bit as they travel together around the sun and then back to the outer solar system.

Hundreds of year from now, when future archaeoastronomers discover Philae sitting on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, will it create the energy and wonder created by its namesake – the Rosetta Stone – discovered in 1799 by French soldier Pierre-Francois Bouchard near the town of Rosetta in Egypt.

Philae will be sitting

Will scientists hundreds of years in the future argue over the true origin and meaning of the device they discover on a lonely comet circling the sun? Will it create widespread public interest in determining how, why and when it came to rest on a piece of the original building blocks of the solar system? Time will tell the story sometime in the future. A story that could inspire others to delve deeper into the mystery of the solar system and life on Earth.

You can find additional information on the current status of the Rosetta mission here.

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Mankind’s Next Great Step into the Cosmos

The James Webb Space Telescope Takes Mankind to the Edge of Infinity

The James Webb Space Telescope Journeys to the Beginning of Space and Time

The study of astronomy takes astronomers to places undreamed of in human consciousness

Astronomy News – Mankind’s Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time is about to voyage into unknown areas of the universe in search of answers to questions that were in the minds of the first-star gazers. Why are we here? Are we alone in the universe or is life abundant? Plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit in 2014, or earlier in 2015, are still on target, and this telescope will allow mankind to delve into regions of the universe and look for answers to these questions and more technical questions. The largest telescope ever constructed by mankind, the James Webb Space Telescope is slowly beginning to take shape in three NASA space centers around the United States.

A combined effort between the Canadian space agencies, NASA, and the European Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to allow us to view the universe in ways never before experienced by humankind. Once launched into space the James Webb Space Telescope will maneuver into position orbiting the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sol system, L2. This position in the solar system is just one of five locations where the gravitational pull of the Earth is equal to Sol’s. At this remote location a service call by astronauts is definitely out of the question and budget limits of the program. The James Webb Space Telescope simply must work upon arriving on station at L2, without the possibility of servicing by astronauts.

The absolute need for the James Webb Telescope to operate without a hitch upon arriving on station, and the facts learned during the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, has convinced the designers and engineers working on the James Webb Space Telescope that a new testing program is needed to ensure every component in the James Webb Telescope works as designed, before being launched into orbit. Over in the gigantic thermal-vacuum test chamber of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas technicians are currently preparing to begin tests designed to test the entire optical train of the James Webb Space Telescope. They want to ensure the optical system of the telescope operates as a single unit in a vacuum and at the correct operating temperature for optimum performance of the optical systems. In January, engineers started testing six of the primary mirror segments of the James Webb Space Telescope, to ensure everything is as it should be. By the end of 2014 engineers should be nearing completion of the James Webb Space Telescope’s 18 mirror segments, and all flight instrumentation should be tested and ready to go.

These mirror segments are currently undergoing testing by NASA technicians

The James Webb Space Telescope will take mankind on the next leg of the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Once on location at L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will fully deploy its 18 hexagonal, gold-coated mirror segments to form a primary mirror with an effective diameter of 6.6 meters (259 inches). This is a full 6 times the light-collecting area of the Hubble Space Telescope, but the designers and engineers have also added systems driven by software that will analysis the incoming image, and allow astronomers to fine tune the view by controlling the mirrors overall shape.

Out orbiting L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will be far from problematic heat sources, and with a tennis-court sized sunshade shielding the telescope from Sol, the heat-sensitive instrumentation of the telescope will cool passively in the cold darkness of space and time, to the required operating temperature of -388 degrees Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius).

Astronomers believe the first stars created after the Big Bang possessed as much as 100 times Sol’s current mass, shine millions of times brighter than Sol, but only lived a few million years, before exploding in the first supernovae. The James Webb Space Telescope will be capable of allowing mankind to Journey to within about 180 million years after the Big Bang if astronomers are correct, and possibly view the first moments of the universe in space terms. Astronomers will also use the James Webb Space Telescope to view celestial objects that have been exciting the human imagination since they were first discovered in the time of the first-star gazers. Astronomers are currently preparing for the beginning of the era of the James Webb Space Telescope. They’ll soon be proposing all kinds of Journeys to the Beginning of Space and Time that will hopefully provide a few answers to these questions that have been exciting mankind since the first time a human looked upward into the night sky.

Thousands of people have contributed to the designing, engineering and eventual launch into orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope

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