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WVU Postdoctoral Researcher led international team using NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope to identify and image the first wind nebula around a radio pulsar


Magnetar outbursts are one of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe. Steady outflow of ejected particles from magnetars, known as magnetar wind nebulae, are rare and how these outbursts impact their environment is still an open question. Researchers at WVU have found the first evidence of the effects of magnetar outbursts on a compact nebula surrounding a young radio pulsar.

Radio Pulsar J1119-6127

Blumer et al., 2021
Dr. Harsha Blumer, a postdoctoral researcher in the WVU Department of Physics and Astronomy and in the Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology, was the lead researcher on the international team studying the wind nebula around a radio pulsar using NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope. 

The pulsar, titled J1119-6127, is a high-magnetic field pulsar first detected in X-rays by the team in 2003.  They also detected a faint compact wind nebula around it, a first for this pulsar.  Further observations in 2016 showed an outburst like a magnetar and appeared brighter.  Most recent observations in October of 2019 observed the pulsar going back to quiescent stage, just three years after the source went into outburst. 

“What is interesting about this source is that its nebula shows evidence of particle injection from the magnetar outburst in the Chandra data taken three years later,” says Blumer.

Harsha Blumer, PhD
Harsha Blumer, PhD, West Virginia University

By studying the post-outburst evolution, researchers can track the increase and decrease of the nebula’s luminosity and characterize its spectrum and morphology to test theoretical models. Dr. Maura McLaughlin, professor in Physics and Astronomy at WVU and co-author, describes the study’s impact, “It is a small sample but studying the post-outburst evolution of such sources allows us to probe the transition stages between pulsars and magnetars and help understand how a magnetar wind nebula works or why they are not found around all magnetars”.

The publication titled “Back to quiescence: post-outburst evolution of the pulsar J1119–6127 and its wind nebula” will be published in the Astrophysical Journal. It can be read online at: