Cannonball Run

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Cannonball Run

 A stellar “cannonball” is racing across the constellation Cassiopeia at more than two million miles per hour. And it’s leaving a long trail behind it.

The cannonball is a pulsar — the spinning, superdense corpse of an exploded star. The explosion was a supernova. When the original star’s core could no longer produce energy, it collapsed. That formed a neutron star — an object more massive than the Sun, but only the size of a city. It spins about nine times per second, sending out “pulses” of radio waves.

The explosion that created the neutron star probably was a little off center. That gave the star a big kick, sending it careening away from the site of the explosion.

Astronomers discovered the star in 2019. Using radio and X-ray telescopes, they’ve since found a trail behind it that’s trillions of miles long. It has some bends and kinks, suggesting that the star is passing through thick clouds of gas.

Astronomers also found a “bow shock” in front of the star — gas and dust that’s being “squeezed” by the speedy cannonball, like water ahead of a fast boat. The star should be moving fast enough to escape the galaxy — and blast through the gulf between galaxies on its own.

Cassiopeia the queen is high in the northeast at nightfall. It looks like a sideways letter W. The cannonball star is near the top right point of the W. But it’s much too faint to see without the right kind of telescope.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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