When the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), observed the nebula, situated 18,000 light-years away, at radio wavelengths using the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope, it was found that the nebula had a remarkable resemblance to the Manatee, an endangered species of marine mammals, also popularly known as “sea-cows”.
Check out the official press release, for a (totally awesome) side-by-side comparison of the nebula and the “cow”.
The nebula is 700 light-years across, and together with its resemblance to the manatee, truly becomes a giant “cow in the sky”.
History of W50
Long, loooong ago (or very, veeeery recently – depending on whether you talk in terms of your lifetime, or the universe’s), a star in the star system SS 433 went supernova, leaving SS 433 an eclipsing, X-ray binary system. As it turns out, SS 433 also happens to be a micro-quasar.
Coming back to the original language of this blog, which is English, an “eclipsing, X-ray binary” simply means that the system is composed of two stars, which appear to eclipse each other (as viewed from the Earth), and that at least one of the stars emits most of its energy in the form of X-rays. And a micro-quasar (a smaller cousin of the quasar), is a star that weighs about a few times the Sun’s mass, and emits most of its energy in the form of high-frequency, short-wavelength X-rays. The star in this case could be a white dwarf, a black hole or a neutron star.
In the case of SS 433, the more massive, primary star is most likely a black hole micro-quasar (the chance that it is a neutron star instead is small). It also happens to be the first discovered micro-quasar! The other, less massive, secondary star is likely an A-type star, as per the scheme of stellar classification.
The nebula that the supernova explosion left behind is what came to be known as W50 some 20,000 years later.
Feast your eyes on this video of the Manatee Nebula, and accompanying simulation of SS 433!
To conclude, I have rambled on about this tiny bit of information, and you have (hopefully!) been generous enough to read it so far, but in case you are wondering “why should I care?”, I have an answer for you. You should care because you are a part of this universe!
Today there’s a cow in the sky.
Who knows, maybe tomorrow pigs will fly!
Official press release here.
And to give credit where it’s due, this is the initial post that brought the news to me in the first place and resulted in this blog.