Friday, October 8, 2010

Black Widow Pulsar

This NASA image depicts B1957+20, a "black widow" pulsar. A black widow is a neutron star that is consuming a companion star, releasing large amounts of energy in the process. This one is in the news because it seems to be larger than the limit our theories allow for a neutron star to be stable, without collapsing into a black hole. But this image! What are we looking at, and why is it so like a one-eyed, hooded demon? How was the image taken, and in what kind of light? Since this image was released to the news services, NASA's image site has been locked up by people trying to find out more about it, I can't find out anything.

Update: This is an "artist's conception" based on data that doesn't look nearly this cool. Explanation here. Below is the image from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Team, combining visual light and x-rays, on which the rendering seems to be based.

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