Journal Article

Wisps and knots in the central Crab nebula

Yu-Qing Lou

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 294, issue 3, pages 443-447
Published in print March 1998 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online March 1998 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Wisps and knots in the central Crab nebula

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The fast-spinning Crab pulsar (∼30 turn s−1), which powers the massive expansion and synchrotron emission of the entire Crab nebula, is surrounded by quasi-stationary features such as fibrous arc-like wisps and bright polar knots in the radial range of 2×1016r≲2×1017 cm, as revealed by high-resolution (∼0.1 arcsec) images from the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) on board the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The spin-down energy flux (∼5×1038 erg s-1) from the pulsar to the luminous outer nebula, which occupies the radial range 0.1≲r≲2 pc, is generally believed to be transported by a magnetized relativistic outflow of an electron—positron e± pair plasma. It is then puzzling that mysterious structures like wisps and knots, although intrinsically dynamic in synchrotron emission, remain quasi-stationary on time-scales of a few days to a week in the relativistic pulsar wind. Here we demonstrate that, as a result of slightly inhomogeneous wind streams emanating from the rotating pulsar, fast magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) shock waves are expected to appear in the pulsar wind at relevant radial distances in the forms of wisps and knots. While forward fast MHD shocks move outward with a speed close to the speed of light c, reverse fast MHD shocks may appear quasi-stationary in space under appropriate conditions. In addition, Alfvénic fluctuations in the shocked magnetized pulsar wind can effectively scatter synchrotron beams from gyrating relativistic electrons and positrons.

Keywords: MHD; relativity; stars: neutron; pulsars: general; ISM: individual: Crab; supernova remnants

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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