Yesterday, we posted a really strange image and asked all of you to play detective here, and let us know if you think the image is real, fake or a rendering of a real image that may be embellished a bit. Surprisingly, not one single person was 100% correct in their guess (loved all of the 'frog eye' guesses, though my first guess was it was an image of a space wooki, but neither of those answers were right. So, what is it.. you may ask? *drum roll please*
This is a very fake picture of a very real cosmic phenomenon formally called the "Black Widow" pulsar, which lies some 5,000 light-years away in the constellation known as Sagitta (not Sagittarius). This is an artist rendering of the bow-shock from the pulsar, one that has an amazing pulse period of just 1.6 milliseconds, which is unimpressive compared to some pulsars that can pulsate more than 100 times per second!
As we know, pulsars the cousins of neutron stars, dense remnants of stars much more massive than the sun that go supernova, cramming a chunk of the star's mass into a compact core that's generally only a few kilometers across. Sometimes, the axis of the neutron star will be pointed toward Earth, allowing us to see the pulsations.
This particular one, formally dubbed B1957+20 (pictured in the white light above) , didn't get its name from its looks alone. Instead, it got its name by shamelessly consuming a companion star, stripping it of a large portion of its mass and causing it to erode away due to the influx of intense radiation. This pair make a complete orbit around one another in only 93 minutes, which makes this one of the fastest and closest orbiting pair currently known of. In return, the pulsar gains some momentum, causing it to rotate more quickly, which contributes to the bow shock from stellar winds.
The wicked ways of the internet ALMOST fooled me with this one too. For when I originally saw it, I gave it "the eyes," (you all know what i'm talking about, right?) but several sites touted it as real, even going so far as claiming this was a composite image stitched together using data collected of the pulsar at different wavelengths, but since we are extremely cautious in assuring we don't pass on any bad information, I came to find out that this is an artists rendering of the Black Widow pulsar.
As far as I can tell, this is the only real image ever taken of the pulsar (and it isn't nearly as picturesque as this one, but you can see that this may very well look similar to the artist depiction we originally posted):
The blue and green in this one are optical images of the H-alpha bow shock. While the red and white are secondary shock structures discovered in x-ray by Chandra. It's the best we have until we can capture a better image of the area, which is difficult due to the nature of millisecond pulsars themselves.
Congratulations to all of you savvy folks that were able to sort this one out, no matter how you came to your conclusion. Until next time!
For More Information:
"First black widow pulsar found from gamma ray observations:"
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/ASTRON/B.Stappers et al.; Optical: AAO/J.Bland-Hawthorn & H.Jones