Unusual shape of exploded star puzzles scientists

Jun 17, 2009
Unusual shape of exploded star puzzles scientists
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/S. Park and J. Lee); Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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 white-dwarf star that disintegrated in a thermonuclear explosion, known as a Type Ia supernova, but it does not look like other likely Type ia remnants found in our own Milky Way galaxy.

The research that led to the new image of this object was led by Penn State astronomers Sangwook Park and Jae-Joon Lee, and is being presented this week at the 214th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Pasadena, California. The strange object, known as SNR 0104-72.3 (SNR 0104 for short), is in the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy, which is a neighbor of our .

This composite image of SNR 0104 is made of from Chandra, shown in purple, and infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, shown in green and red. Instead of having a circular shape, the object is dominated by two bright lobes of emission (on the upper right and lower left). The large amount of iron in these lobes indicates that SNR 0104 was likely formed by a Type Ia supernova.

According to Park and Lee, one possible explanation for this structure is that the explosion of the white dwarf itself was strongly asymmetrical and produced two jets of iron. Another possibility is that the complicated environment revealed in the image may have caused the unusual shape. The green shells on the left and right side of SNR 0104 correspond to surrounding material that has been swept up by the explosion. So, the unusual shape of the remnant might be caused by a lack of material to the north and south of the star, leaving a clear, outward path for the stellar debris. This explanation, however, is still in question, and scientists hope more data from Chandra and other telescopes will help to settle the debate.

The presence of a nearby massive star and the shells of gas and dust seen in the wide-field view from Spitzer shows that SNR 0104 might be located within a star-forming region. This possibility suggests that SNR 0104 may belong to a little-studied class of so-called "prompt" Type Ia supernovas, which are caused by the demise of younger, more massive stars than the average exploding white-dwarf star. More data will be needed to test this theory.

Source: Pennsylvania State University

Explore further: 'Blockbuster' science images

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Supernova remnant is an unusual suspect

Jun 09, 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 ...

X-ray Evidence Supports Possible New Class Of Supernova

Jan 04, 2007

Evidence for a significant new class of supernova has been found with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. These results strengthen the case for a population of stars ...

Chandra Spies Cosmic Fireworks

Jul 14, 2006

The Chandra X-ray Observatory has captured the remains of four supernovas in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, showing multi-million-degree gas that has been heated by shock waves from the explosions.

An Oxygen Factory in a Nearby Galaxy

Mar 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.

Action replay of powerful stellar explosion

Mar 20, 2008

Astronomers have made the best ever determination of the power of a supernova explosion that was visible from Earth long ago. By observing the remnant of a supernova and a light echo from the initial outburst, ...

Supernova Remnants Dance in the LMC

Jan 10, 2008

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 ...

Recommended for you

'Blockbuster' science images

Nov 21, 2014

At this point, the blockbuster movie Interstellar has created such a stir that one would almost have to be inside a black hole not to know about it. And while the science fiction thriller may have taken some ...

Estimating the magnetic field of an exoplanet

Nov 20, 2014

Scientists developed a new method which allows to estimate the magnetic field of a distant exoplanet, i.e., a planet, which is located outside the Solar system and orbits a different star. Moreover, they ...

It's filamentary: How galaxies evolve in the cosmic web

Nov 20, 2014

How do galaxies like our Milky Way form, and just how do they evolve? Are galaxies affected by their surrounding environment? An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the University of ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2009
sorry, just a problem with sans serif. It's type "i - a"
1.6 / 5 (5) Jun 17, 2009

It was once commonly believed that stars explode symmetrically.

That was the opinion expressed by astrophysicists at the AGU meeting in April of 1976 when Dr. Sabu and I suggested that the solar system was formed out of supernova debris left after an axial explosion of the Sun.

Images from the Hubble telescope showed that axial explosions are in fact common, e.g., SN 1987A.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

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.