Astronomers have known about a pulsar (superdense, rapidly spinning neutron stars left behind when a massive star explodes) nicknamed J2002 since 2017.  That’s when a citizen-science project called Einstein@Home (which have used volunteers’ computers to identify 23 gamma-ray pulsars to date) identified the pulsar using data from Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.  But they didn’t know exactly how fast it was going.  Now, astronomers have answered that question.  Answer: very very fast. 

J2002 is about 6,500 light years away in the constellation Cassiopeia.  It spins 8.7 times a second, producing a pulse of gamma rays with each rotation and lies about 53 light-years from the center of a supernova remnant called CTB 1 (which resulted from a supernova that occurred 10,000 years ago).  NASA astronomers know that CTB 1 is the origin of J2002’s journey through the cosmos, because J2002 has a 13 light-year-long tail that points straight to CTB 1.  Think about that for just a second. 

Astronomers don’t know why, but J2002 is speeding through space five times faster than your average pulsar.  That’s faster than 99% of other measured pulsar speeds.  It is going so fast, that it could travel from Earth to our moon in 6 minutes.  That’s 2.5 million miles an hour!  It’s speed has earned it the nickname “cannonball pulsar.”

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Beyond being extremely fascinating, tracking J2002 can give great insight into how the universe operates. National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO) Frank Schinzel said, “Further study of this object will help us better understand how these explosions are able to ‘kick’ neutron stars to such high speed.”



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