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Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
X-ray Astronomy Field Guide
Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Questions and Answers
Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Chandra Images
Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Animations & Video: Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
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Click for high-resolution animation
1. Tour of G350.1-0.3
QuicktimeMPEG G350.1+0.3 is a young and exceptionally bright supernova remnant located nearly 15,000 light years from Earth toward the center of the Milky Way. While many supernova remnants are nearly circular, G350.1+0.3 has a strikingly unusual appearance. X-rays from Chandra and infrared data from Spitzer outline this bizarre shape, which astronomers think comes from the stellar debris field expanding into a nearby cloud of cold gas. With an age of between 600 and 1,200 years old, G350.1+0.3 is in the same time frame as other famous supernovas that formed the Crab and SN 1006 supernova remnants. However, it is unlikely that anyone on Earth would have seen the explosion because too much gas and dust lies along our line of sight to the remnant, blocking the view.
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(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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2. Tour of the Crab
QuicktimeMPEG The Crab Nebula is one of the brightest sources of high-energy radiation in the sky. Little wonder - it's the expanding remains of an exploded star, a supernova seen in 1054. Scientists have used virtually every telescope at their disposal, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, to study the Crab. The supernova left behind a magnetized neutron star - a pulsar. It's about the size of Washington DC, but it spins 30 times a second. Each rotation sweeps a lighthouse-like beam past us, creating a pulse of electromagnetic energy detectable across the spectrum.

Here's what the sky looks like in high-energy gamma rays. The pulsar in the Crab Nebula is among the brightest sources. Recently, NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Observatory and Italy's AGILE Satellite detected strong gamma-ray flares from the Crab, including a series of "superflares" in April 2011. To help pinpoint the location of these flares, astronomers enlisted Chandra.

With its keen X-ray eyes, Chandra saw lots of activity, but none of it seems correlated with the superflare. This hints that whatever is causing the flares is happening with about a third of a light year from the pulsar. And rapid changes in the rise and fall of gamma rays imply that the emission region is very small, comparable in size to our Solar System.

The Chandra observations will likely help scientists to home in on an explanation of the gamma-ray flares one day. The Chandra data provide strong constraints on the behavior, at relatively low energies, of the particles that have been accelerated to produce the gamma-ray flares. Even after a thousand years, the heart of this shattered star still offers scientists glimpses of staggering energies and cutting edge science.
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(NASA/CXC/MSFC/M.Weisskopf et al & A.Hobart)

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3. Tour of PSR J0357+3205
QuicktimeMPEG A spinning neutron star is tied to a mysterious tail, or is it? Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have found a long, X-ray bright tail streaming away from the pulsar known as PSR J0357. The tail appears to stretch for over 4 light years from behind the pulsar, which would make it the longest one ever seen trailing behind this type of pulsar. However, as is often the case in astronomy, things are not quite so simple. The amount of energy being lost from the pulsar doesn't seem to account for all of the material seen in the tail. Also, the brightest portion of the tail is not actually near the pulsar, which scientists would expect. So scientists plan on looking at PSR J0357 more in the future with Chandra and other telescopes, and hope that even more data will help them pin down what is happening in this intriguing object.
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(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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4. Chandra Motion Sequence of Crab Nebula
QuicktimeMPEG A new movie from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a sequence of Chandra images of the Crab Nebula, taken over an interval of seven months. Dramatic variations are seen, including the expansion of a ring of X-ray emission around the pulsar (white dot near center) and changes in the knots within this ring. Chandra began observing the Crab on monthly intervals beginning six days after the discovery of the gamma-ray flare in September 2010. This established a baseline of seven images of the nebula before the superflare was seen just last month. When scientists saw that more flaring activity was beginning in April 2011, a pre-planned set of five Chandra observations was initiated. Two of these observations were made when strong gamma-ray flares occurred, but no clear evidence was seen for correlated flares in the Chandra images. The movie shows the April observations in "slow motion" to focus on the time when the gamma-ray superflares occurred. The movie shows three loops through the sequence of images, along with a timeline near the bottom.
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(NASA/CXC/MSFC/M.Weisskopf et al & A.Hobart)

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5. A Tour of GRS 1915+105
QuicktimeMPEG GRS 1915+105, or GRS 1915 for short, is a special system. Not only does it contain a black hole some 14 times more massive than the Sun in orbit with a companion star, it also has a heartbeat. Or, more exactly, it gives off X-ray pulses that resemble the pattern of a human heart, though on a much slower scale. By monitoring this system with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, astronomers were able to pick out a spike of X-rays every 50 seconds or so. Researchers have determined that this heartbeat is due to the ebb and flow of material as it circles the black hole. This result gives scientists more insight into how black holes regulate their intake and control their growth.
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(NASA/CXC/Harvard/J.Neilsen et al & A.Hobart)

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6. GRS 1915's "Heartbeat" X-ray Variation
QuicktimeMPEG The heartbeat variation of GRS 1915 is shown here in a repeated cycle to emphasize the similarity between the X-ray light curve and an electrocardiogram. The period has been sped up by a factor of 40.
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(NASA/CXC/Harvard/J.Neilsen et al)

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7. Simulation of GRS 1915's "Heartbeat"
QuicktimeMPEG This movie shows a simulation of the heartbeat variation of GRS 1915. It shows an X-ray point source varying with time, based on an average X-ray light curve of GRS 1915 obtained with RXTE. The period of the heartbeat variation has been sped up by a factor of 10 and four cycles of the variation are shown.
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(NASA/CXC/Harvard/J.Neilsen & A.Hobart)

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8. Tour of G327.1-1.1
QuicktimeMPEG G327.1-1.1 is the aftermath of a massive star that exploded as a supernova in the Milky Way galaxy. A highly magnetic, rapidly spinning neutron star called a pulsar was left behind after the explosion and is producing a wind of relativistic particles, seen in X-rays by Chandra and XMM-Newton as well as in radio data. This structure is called a pulsar wind nebula. No clear explanation is yet known for the unusual shape of this supernova remnant. One possibility is that we are seeing the effects of a shock wave bouncing backwards off of the shell of material swept up by the blast wave. The X-ray observations allow scientists to estimate the energy released during the supernova explosion and the age of the remnant, as well as the amount of material being swept up as the blast wave from the explosion expands.
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(X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/T.Temim et al. and ESA/XMM-Newton Radio: SIFA/MOST and CSIRO/ATNF/ATCA; Infrared: UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF/2MASS)

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9. Tour of G54.1+0.3
QuicktimeMPEG Data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope were combined to create this image of the dusty remains of a collapsed star. This object, known as G54.1+0.3, is a supernova remnant some 20,000 light years from Earth. The white object near the center of the image is a dense, rapidly-rotating neutron star called a pulsar that was left behind after the star collapsed. The pulsar generates a wind of high-energy particles, seen in the Chandra data, that expands into the surrounding environment, illuminating the material ejected in the supernova explosion. This infrared data shows a shell of dust and gas that's being dispersed back into space where it one day may become part of a new generation of stars and planets.
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(X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/T.Temim et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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10. Animation of Jet and Wind around GRS 1915+105
QuicktimeMPEG This animation shows how radio jets may be suppressed in the micro- quasar GRS 1915. Material is being pulled from a red companion star into a black hole via a blue, rapidly rotating disk. The animation begins with a jet blowing material away from the black hole. Later, when the disk is heated by powerful radiation from close to the black hole, a wind is driven off the disk. As the wind strengthens, the jet apparently is shut down because the wind deprives the jet of material that would otherwise have fueled it.
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(NASA/CXC/A.Hobart)

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