Near-infrared, kilosecond variability of the wisps and jet in the Crab pulsar wind nebula

A. Melatos, D. Scheltus, M. T. Whiting, S. S. Eikenberry, R. W. Romani, F. Rigaut, Anatoly Spitkovsky, J. Arons, D. J.B. Payne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


We present a time-lapse sequence of 20 near-infrared (J and K′ band) snapshots of the central 20 × 20 of the Crab pulsar wind nebula, taken at subarcsecond resolution with the Hokupa'a/QUIRC adaptive optics camera on the Gemini North Telescope and sampled at intervals of 10 minutes and 24 hr. It is observed that the equatorial wisps and polar knots in the termination shock of the pulsar wind appear to fluctuate in brightness on kilosecond timescales. Maximum flux variations of ±24% ±4% and ±14% ±4% relative to the mean (in 1.2 ks) are measured for the wisps and knots, respectively, with the greatest statistical significance in the J band, where the nebula background is less prominent. The J and K′ flux densities imply different near-infrared spectra for the nonthermal continuum emission from the wisps and the outermost polar knot (the "sprite"), giving F v ∝c v-0.56±0.12 and Fv ∝ v-0.21±0.13, respectively. The data are compared with existing optical and UV photometry and applied to constrain theories of the variability of the wisps (relativistic ion-cyclotron instability) and knots (relativistic fire-hose instability).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)931-940
Number of pages10
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Nov 10 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: individual (Crab Nebula)
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • Pulsars: individual (Crab Pulsar)
  • Stars: neutron
  • Supernova remnants


Dive into the research topics of 'Near-infrared, kilosecond variability of the wisps and jet in the Crab pulsar wind nebula'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this