About three times a second, a 10,000-year-old stellar corpse sweeps a beam of gamma-rays toward Earth. Discovered by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the object, called a pulsar, is the first one known that only “blinks” in gamma rays.
“This is the first example of a new class of pulsars that will give us fundamental insights into how these collapsed stars work,” said Stanford University’s Peter Michelson, principal investigator for Fermi’s Large Area Telescope in Palo Alto, Calif.
The gamma-ray-only pulsar lies within a supernova remnant known as CTA 1, which is located about 4,600 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus. Its lighthouse-like beam sweeps Earth’s way every 316.86 milliseconds. The pulsar, which formed about 10,000 years ago, emits 1,000 times the energy of our sun.
A pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star, the crushed core left behind when a massive sun explodes. Astronomers have cataloged nearly 1,800 pulsars. Although most were found through their pulses at radio wavelengths, some of these objects also beam energy in other forms, including visible light and X-rays. However, the source in CTA 1 only pulses at gamma-ray energies.
“We think the region that emits the pulsed gamma rays is broader than that responsible for pulses of lower-energy radiation,” explained team member Alice Harding at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The radio beam probably never swings toward Earth, so we never see it. But the wider gamma-ray beam does sweep our way.”
Scientists think CTA 1 is only the first of a large population of similar objects. … – nasa