The European Space Agency’s X-ray space telescope, XMM-Newton, has captured images of the Manatee Nebula, a stunning cosmic object whose “head” exhibits extraordinary particle acceleration.
The Manatee Nebula, also known as W50, is thought to be a sizeable supernova remnant left over from a significant star explosion that took place approximately 30 000 years ago and threw the star’s gaseous outer shells across the sky. With a size comparable to four full Moons, it is one of the biggest features of its kind ever recorded.
At the center of the remnant, a black hole still exists, which is unusual for a supernova. The SS 433 central “microquasar” produces powerful particle jets that penetrate the gaseous shells and create the double-lobed structure by moving at speeds close to a quarter of the speed of light.
Particles are accelerated by this lovely cosmic creature from its “head.”
SS 433 is represented by the red dot in the image’s middle. The colors used to display the XMM-Newton data are yellow (soft X-rays), magenta (middle energy X-rays), and cyan (hard X-ray emission), while red and green are the radio and optical wavelengths, respectively, recorded by the Very Large Array and the Skinakas Observatory in Greece. Data from the NASA NuSTAR and Chandra satellites were also utilized in the study (not shown in this image).
The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory, which is sensitive to very high energy gamma-ray photons, made the discovery of the presence of highly energetic particles (hundreds of tera electron volts) in the Manatee Nebula in 2018. However, the observatory was unable to determine where the particles were coming from within the nebula.
The X-ray jet erupting from the Manatee’s head has a region of particle acceleration that starts about 100 light years from the microquasar (represented by the magneta and cyan colors on the left side of SS 433) and extends to about 300 light years (coinciding with the radio ‘ear’ where the shock terminates). This region was identified thanks to XMM-Newton.
We believe the particles are being accelerated to very high energies in the head of the Manatee through an unusually energetic particle acceleration process, according to study leader Samar Safi-Harb of the University of Manitoba in Canada. Perhaps as a result of shock waves in the expanding gas clouds and stronger magnetic fields, the black hole outflow made it there and has been re-energized to high-energy radiation there.
The nebula will be further researched as a close-by laboratory for examining a wide range of astrophysical phenomena linked with the outflows of different galactic and extragalactic sources. ESA’s upcoming Athena X-ray observatory will conduct additional research that will provide even more delicate details about the inner workings of this fascinating cosmic Manatee.