When astronomers detected intense radiation pumping out of the Crab Nebula, one of the most studied objects in space, at higher energies than anyone thought possible, they were nothing short of stunned. The inexplicably powerful gamma-rays came from the very heart of the Crab Nebula, where an extreme object called a pulsar resides. According to Andrew McCann, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and a co-author of the new study it was totally not expected, it was absolutely jaw-dropping. This is one of the hottest targets in the sky, so people have been looking at the Crab Nebula for a long time. Now there’s a twist in the tale. High-energy rays coming from the nebula are well-known, but coming from the pulsar is something nobody expected.
These new details of the Crab pulsar could change scientists’ understanding of gamma-ray emissions and how they are generated. The gamma-ray beams from the Crab pulsar were detected by the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS), which is located at the Smithsonian’s Whipple Observatory, just south of Tucson, Ariz. VERITAS, which began collecting full-scale observations in 2007, is used to examine the remains of exploded stars, distant galaxies, powerful gamma-ray bursts, and to search for evidence of mysterious dark matter particles.