NASA NICER discovers X-ray bursts coming from the Crab Pulsar
NICER, the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer, is a NASA telescope that operates from the ISS, and it has made an interesting discovery. NICER has discovered X-ray surges emanating from the Crab Nebula alongside radio bursts from the pulsar. The bursts are called giant radio pulses, and they release far more energy than previously believed.
A pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star with a core the size of a city that is the remains of a star that went supernova. Some neutron stars can spin dozens of times each second, and the spinning magnetic field powers beams of radio waves, visible light, X-rays, and gamma rays. If beams emanating from the pulsar sweep past Earth, astronomers can observe pulses of emissions, and the object is classified as a pulsar.
The Crab pulsar is one of a few pulsars that emit giant radio pulses occurring sporadically that can be hundreds to thousands of times brighter than regular pulses. Researchers have observed the Crab pulsar for decades, and it’s the only pulsar that’s been shown to enhance its giant radio pulses with emissions from other parts of the spectrum.
The new NASA study analyzed the largest amount of simultaneous x-ray and radio data ever collected from a pulsar. Researchers say it extends the observed energy range associated with this enhancement phenomenon by thousands of times. The Crab Pulsar is about 6500 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Taurus. The light from the supernova that formed the Crab Nebula and Pulsar first reached Earth in July 1054.
The neutron star rotates 30 times each second, and in radio and x-ray waves, it’s among the brightest pulsars in the sky. The pulsar has X-rays with energies up to 10,000 electron volts or thousands of times that of visible light.