Researchers testing a major upgrade to a telescope have spotted a bizarre supernova remnant that looks uncannily like a manatee.
W50 is one of the largest supernova remnants ever viewed by the VLA, measuring nearly 700 light years across, and covering two degrees on the sky – the span of four full Moons.
The unique 20,000 year old phenomenon was spotted following a major upgrade to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA).
‘Optically bright astronomical objects, those visible to the eye and optical telescopes, often are nicknamed for their earthly likenesses, such as the Whirlpool Galaxy and Owl Nebula,’ said the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in a statement.
When the VLA’s giant W50 image reached the NRAO Director’s office, Heidi Winter, the Director’s Executive Assistant, saw the likeness to a manatee, the endangered marine mammals known as ‘sea cows’ that congregate in warm waters in the southeastern United States.
The enormous W50 cloud formed when a giant star, 18,000 light years away in the constellation of Aquila, exploded as a supernova around twenty thousand years ago, sending its outer gases flying outward in an expanding bubble.
The remaining, gravitationally-crushed relic of that giant star, usually a black hole, feeds on gas from a very close, companion star.
The cannibalized gas collects in a disk around the black hole.
The disk and black hole’s network of powerful magnetic field lines acts like an enormous railroad system to snag charged particles out of the disk and channel them outward in powerful jets traveling at nearly the speed of light.
This system of a black hole and its feeder star shines brightly in both radio waves and X-rays and is known collectively as the SS433 microquasar.
Over time, the microquasar’s jets have forced their way through the expanding gases of the W50 bubble, eventually punching bulges outward on either side.
The jets also wobble, like an unstable spinning top, and blaze vivid corkscrew patterns across the inflating bulges.
Until now, the nebula was known as W50, a less catchy name by being the 50th radio source listed in the Westerhout Catalog, assembled in 1958 by Dutch astronomer, Gart Westerhout.