Stellar Shrapnel Seen in Aftermath of Explosion

May 24, 2010
Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Penn State/S. Park et al. Optical: NASA/STScI/UIUC/Y.H. Chu & R. Williams et al.

(PhysOrg.com) -- This beautiful composite image shows N49, the aftermath of a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud. A new long observation from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, shown in blue, reveals evidence for a bullet-shaped object being blown out of debris field left over from an exploded star.

In order to detect this bullet, a team of researchers led by Sangwook Park of Penn State University used Chandra to observe N49 for over 30 hours. This bullet can be seen in the bottom right hand corner of the image (see the labeled version of the image) and is rich in silicon, sulphur and neon. The detection of this bullet shows that the explosion that destroyed the star was highly asymmetric.

The bullet is traveling at a high speed of about 5 million miles an hour away from a bright point source in the upper left part of N49. This bright source may be a so-called soft gamma ray repeater (SGR), a source that emits bursts of and X-rays. A leading explanation for these objects is that they are neutron stars with extremely powerful magnetic fields. Since neutron stars are often created in explosions, an association between SGRs and is not unexpected. This case is strengthened by the apparent alignment between the bullet's path and the bright X-ray source. However, the new Chandra data also shows that the bright source is more obscured by gas than expected if it really lies inside the supernova remnant. In other words, it is possible that the bright X-ray source actually lies beyond the remnant and is projected along the line of sight. Another possible bullet is located on the opposite side of the remnant, but it is harder to see in the image because it overlaps with the bright emission - described below - from the shock- cloud interaction.

Optical data from the (yellow and purple) shows bright filaments where the shock wave generated by the supernova is interacting with the densest regions in nearby clouds of cool, molecular gas.

Using the new Chandra data, the age of N49 -- as it appears in the image -- is thought to be about 5,000 years and the energy of the explosion is estimated to be about twice that of an average supernova. These preliminary results suggest that the original explosion was caused by the collapse of a massive star.

Explore further: Supernova 1987A: Fast Forward to the Past

Related Stories

Supernova 1987A: Fast Forward to the Past

August 18, 2005

Recent Chandra observations have revealed new details about the fiery ring surrounding the stellar explosion that produced Supernova 1987A. The data give insight into the behavior of the doomed star in the years before it ...

An Oxygen Factory in a Nearby Galaxy

March 17, 2008

This Chandra X-ray Observatory image shows the debris of a massive star explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy about 160,000 light years from Earth.

Supernova remnant is an unusual suspect

June 9, 2009

A new image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a supernova remnant with a different look. This object, known as SNR 0104-72.3 (SNR 0104 for short), is in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a small neighboring galaxy to ...

Unusual shape of exploded star puzzles scientists

June 17, 2009

Penn State astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to produce a new image of a ghostly exploded star with an unusual shape in a galaxy near the Milky Way. Astronomers think the object may be the remains of ...

A Super-Efficient Particle Accelerator

July 1, 2009

This image of data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope shows a part of the roughly circular supernova remnant known as RCW 86.

Recommended for you

'Bathtub rings' suggest Titan's dynamic seas

July 28, 2015

Saturn's moon, Titan, is the only object in the Solar System other than Earth known to have liquid on its surface. While most of the lakes are found around the poles, the dry regions near the equator contain signs of evaporated ...

Born-again planetary nebula

July 28, 2015

Beneath the vivid hues of this eye-shaped cloud, named Abell 78, a tale of stellar life and death is unfolding. At the centre of the nebula, a dying star – not unlike our Sun – which shed its outer layers on its way to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.