Chandra Spots Huge Filament of Matter and Antimatter from Gamma-Ray Pulsar

by johnsmith

Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have observed a remarkable X-ray filament generated by the gamma-ray pulsar PSR J2030+4415.

PSR J2030+4415 generated an extremely long beam of matter and antimatter. Image credit: NASA / CXC / Stanford University / M. de Vries / NSF / AURA / Gemini Consortium.

PSR J2030+4415 generated an extremely long beam of matter and antimatter. Image credit: NASA / CXC / Stanford University / M. de Vries / NSF / AURA / Gemini Consortium.

PSR J2030+4415 is located approximately 1,600 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus.

This pulsar formed from the collapse of a massive star and currently spins about three times per second.

The remarkable filament of PSR J2030+4415 was first discovered in 2020 by astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

However, the researchers did not know its full length because it extended beyond the edge of the Chandra detector.

The new Chandra observations by the same team, taken in February and November 2021, show the filament is about three times as long as originally seen.

The filament spans about half the diameter of the full Moon on the sky, making it the longest one from a pulsar as seen from Earth.

“It’s amazing that a pulsar that’s only 10 miles across can create a structure so big that we can see it from thousands of light-years away,” said lead author Dr. Martijn de Vries, an astronomer at Stanford University.

“With the same relative size, if the filament stretched from New York to Los Angeles the pulsar would be about 100 times smaller than the tiniest object visible to the naked eye.”

“This result may provide new insight into the source of Milky Way’s antimatter, which is similar to ordinary matter but with its electrical charges reversed.”

The vast majority of the Universe consists of ordinary matter rather than antimatter. Astronomers, however, continue to find evidence for relatively large numbers of positrons in detectors on Earth, which leads to the question: what are possible sources of this antimatter?

Dr. de Vries and his colleague, Stanford University astronomer Dr. Roger Romani, think that pulsars like PSR J2030+4415 may be one answer.

The combination of two extremes — fast rotation and high magnetic fields of pulsars — leads to particle acceleration and high-energy radiation that creates electron and positron pairs.

PSR J2030+4415 may be leaking these positrons into the Milky Way Galaxy.

According to the team, pulsars generate winds of charged particles that are usually confined within their powerful magnetic fields.

PSR J2030+4415 is traveling through interstellar space at greet speed, with the wind trailing behind it.

A bow shock of gas moves along in front of the pulsar, similar to the pile-up of water in front of a moving boat.

However, about 20 to 30 years ago the bow shock’s motion appears to have stalled, and PSR J2030+4415 caught up to it, resulting in an interaction with the interstellar magnetic field running in almost a straight line.

“This likely triggered a particle leak. The pulsar wind’s magnetic field linked up with the interstellar magnetic field, and the high-energy electrons and positrons squirted out through a nozzle formed by connection,” Dr. Romani said.

The team’s work will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.


Martijn de Vries & Roger W. Romani. 2022. The Long Filament of PSR J2030+4415. ApJ, in press; doi: 10.48550/arXiv.2202.03506

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