Supernova Remnants Dance in the LMC

Jan 10, 2008
Supernova remnants dance in the LMC
Newly released optical image of DEM L316 made with GMOS on Gemini South. This image was obtained as part of the Gemini Legacy Imaging Survey which is led by: P. Michaud, S. Fisher, and R. Carrasco from Gemini and T. Rector from the Univ. of Alaska at Anchorage. (Gemini Observatory / Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS-South) Image)

The Gemini South Multi-Object Spectograph (GMOS) recently captured a dramatic image of a vast cloud complex named DEM L316 located in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The peanut-shaped nebula appears to be a single object, but the latest research indicates that it is really comprised of two distinct gas and dust clouds formed by different types of supernova explosions.

The new image reveals the intricate tendrils of gas and dust located in the remnants of the stellar explosions that created the still-expanding cloud complex. The object was first recognized in the early 1970s as a supernova remnant, a type of object that is enriched with elements created in stellar explosions. The nebula was likely created a few tens of thousands of years ago by more than one type of supernova exploding in this region of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

"The remarkable clarity of these Gemini-South observations shows the complex shock structure of these two supernova remnants in impressive detail," said Dr. Rosa Williams of Columbus State University, an astronomer who has studied DEM L316 extensively. "It's a great step forward in efforts to understand this fascinating pair of remnants - whether they represent only a chance alignment on the sky or some as-yet uncovered physical relationship."

Other recent observations of DEM L316 by the Chandra and XMM-Newton X-ray space telescopes have strengthened the idea that the cloud is actually two supernova remnants that are aligned in the sky by chance and not a single remnant with a distorted bi-polar shape. The Chandra observations reveal that the chemical compositions of the two shells are very different. This is a strong hint that they were created in very different types of supernova outbursts. The data show that the smaller shell (lower left in the GMOS image) contains significantly more iron than the larger one. The high abundance of iron in the small bubble indicates that the gas is the product of a Type Ia supernova. This type of explosion is triggered by the infall of matter from a star onto a white dwarf. Since white dwarf stars are extremely old objects, the system must have been a few billion years old when this supernova explosion took place.

By contrast, the larger, less iron-rich bubble is the result of a Type II supernova that was triggered by the collapse of a massive star (more than seven times the mass of our Sun) when it was only a few million years old. Since the two progenitor systems had vastly different ages when they “went supernova”, there is little chance they came from the same system. Therefore, while the detailed structure seen in the GMOS image makes it look like the two bubbles are colliding, they only seem to be close together in the sky because of a chance alignment in our line of sight.

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a sister satellite galaxy to our Milky Way and lies about 160,000 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Dorado. The DEM L316 nebula is located within the LMC and its two bubbles extend over a distance of about 140 light-years (roughly 35 times larger than the distance between our Sun and its nearest stellar neighbor).

The spectacular x-ray images of DEM L316 obtained with Chandra can be viewed at: chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2005/d316/

Rosa Williams of Columbus State University and You-Hua Chu of the University of Illinois published an extensive study of the double supernova remnant in the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ, 635, 1077, 2005). In that paper the authors also review previous work on this target.

Source: Gemini Observatory

Explore further: Astronomers discover first self-lensing binary star system

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

47 minutes ago

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

Recommended for you

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

22 hours ago

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

23 hours ago

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

LADEE mission ends with planned lunar impact

(Phys.org) —Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface ...

Could 'Jedi Putter' be the force golfers need?

Putting is arguably the most important skill in golf; in fact, it's been described as a game within a game. Now a team of Rice engineering students has devised a training putter that offers golfers audio, ...