Chandra & the Jellyfish

IC 443 is more commonly known as the Jellyfish Nebula. What the heck is a nebula? Well, a nebula is a cloud of dust and gas found in outer space. Sometimes, at night, if you find yourself in the perfect spot for stargazing, you may notice a spot in the sky that is brighter or, perhaps, a darker shadow across a brighter patch.

The Jellyfish Nebula is thought to be the gas and dust leftovers of a supernova event that happened in outer space about 5,000 light years from planet Earth. What the heck is a supernova? Sometimes a star suddenly becomes much brighter because of great explosions happening within the gas that it is made up of. When it becomes so explosive and heated that it ejects most of its mass, it has gone supernova. So, in the simplest of terms, a supernova is a star that has exploded BIG TIME.

The gas and dust debris of the Jellyfish Nebula may also be the material that created a strange object found due south of the nebula. This object is officially called CXOU J061705.3+222127. Scientists just call it J0617. These same scientists believe this object to be a pulsar. What the heck is a pulsar? A pulsar is a neutron star that is rapidly spinning around. It also emits pulses of radio waves and electromagnetic radiation.

What the heck is a neutron star? A neutron star usually has a radius less than 18 miles but is densely packed with neutrons. They are most often created when a massive star goes supernova and leaves behind its core. As a massive star runs out of fuel the stage is set for a supernova explosion. When the fuel runs out, the outer layers collapse. When these outer layers come into contact with the core, they then bounce outward creating the supernova explosion. In the end, all that’s left is the core which is now spinning like crazy and emitting pulses of radio waves and radiation.

The post photo of the Jellyfish Nebula has an inset that shows the region surrounding J0617. Scientists are interested in the small ring that appears to surround the pulsar. There is also a feature of something jet-like that passes through the pulsar. The scientists want to determine if this emission is directly related to the pulsar or has a different source. Possibilities are a high speed wind of particles or something like a shock wave.

Nothing definitive has been concluded regarding when the supernova event occurred. Researchers have offered estimates ranging from 3,000 years ago to 30,000 years ago. Needless to say, the scientists have much more to learn about the Jellyfish Nebula and J0617. If the dear reader is interested in more details than what the simple-minded gringa can offer, check out the on-line source “The Astrophysical Journal”.

Research on the Jellyfish Nebula is managed by NASA’s Chandra program. Specifically, Chandra is an X-ray Observatory. It is the most powerful orbiting X-ray telescope in the world. Scientists from all over the world have access to the images generated by this program. The gringa loves how NASA likes to share knowledge and is not stingy with their technology.

Chandra studies cosmic X-rays, or, the effects of matter that has been heated to millions of degrees. High temperatures that create detectable X-rays happen throughout the universe wherever there are strong magnetic fields, powerful forces of gravity, or extreme explosions (like a supernova).

When a supernova happens, charged particles slam into one another. This causes them to produce energy in the form of photons. As photons fly through space, leaving the scene of a supernova event, they actually become light. These are just the sorts of things Chandra has been tracking and recording since 1999 when the Space Shuttle Columbia launched Chandra into outer space.

Chandra has eight mirrors that X-rays slam into, ricochet off, and are focused onto a focal plane that is half as wide as a human hair.  The focal plane captures the image of the X-rays and records the number, position, energy and arrival time. Two spectrometers then analyze the X-ray to determine what form of energy it is and other details of its physical condition.

Chandra is housed in a spacecraft observatory with two sets of thrusters. This observatory was the largest and heaviest payload ever launched by a Space Shuttle, weighing in at liftoff at 50,162 pounds. If you had eyes as powerful as Chandra, you could read a stop sign from twelve miles away. Chandra’s mission duration was originally set for five years. The mission began in August of 1999 and she is still going strong.

If the dear reader would like to delve into more information about Chandra, visit


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