A pulsar moving at speeds of up to five million miles per hour has produced the longest particle jet ever seen by humans. The jet, ten times as long as the distance between our sun and its nearest star, was spotted by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, a telescope in orbit around the earth.
The jet from the pulsar — known as IGR J11014-6103 — is peculiar for its distinctive corkscrew pattern, one that NASA says suggests the object is "wobbling like a spinning top." Pulsars are types of neutron stars, incredibly dense objects that form when massive stars reach supernova. When they're ejected from their dying parent star, pulsars usually produce jets along the same alignment as their spin axis. IGR J11014-6103's jet and spin axis are almost at right angles to each other, perhaps explaining the jet's strange shape.
The jet is ten times as long as the distance between the sun and its nearest star
The jet is also out of alignment with IGR J11014-6103's pulsar wind nebula. The nebula, a shroud of high-energy particles that trails the pulsar like a comet's tail, is pointing away from the center of the supernova remnant, while the jet is perpendicular. "With the pulsar moving one way and the jet going another, this gives us clues that exotic physics can occur when some stars collapse," Gerd Puehlhofer, co-author of a study into the pulsar, said. Those exotic physics are not yet fully understood. NASA says IGR J11014-6103's erratic movements and monumental jet could be explained if its parent star's iron core had an extremely fast rotation speed, but that "such fast speeds are not commonly expected to be achievable."