Pulsars steadily dissipate their rotational energy via relativistic winds. Confinement of these outflows generates luminous pulsar wind nebulae, seen across the electromagnetic spectrum in synchrotron and inverse Compton emission and in optical emission lines when they shock the surrounding medium. These sources act as important probes of relativistic shocks, particle acceleration, and interstellar gas. We review the many recent advances in the study of pulsar wind nebulae, with particular focus on the evolutionary stages through which these objects progress as they expand into their surroundings, and on morphological structures within these nebulae that directly trace the physical processes of particle acceleration and outflow. We conclude by considering some exciting new probes of pulsar wind nebulae, including the study of TeV gamma-ray emission from these sources, and observations of pulsar winds in close binary systems.
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Pub Date:
- September 2006
- 34 pages, including 7 color figures. To appear in volume 44 of Annual Review of Astronomy &