NASA Image of the Day for Feb. 6th

 Remnant of a Supernova

Remnant of a Supernova

Vital clues about the devastating ends to the lives of massive stars can be found by studying the aftermath of their explosions. In its more than twelve years of science operations, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has studied many of these supernova remnants sprinkled across the galaxy.

The latest example of this important investigation is Chandra’s new image of the supernova remnant known as G350.1-0.3. This stellar debris field is located some 14,700 light years from the Earth toward the center of the Milky Way.

Evidence from Chandra and from ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope suggest that a compact object within G350.1+0.3 may be the dense core of the star that exploded. The position of this likely neutron star, seen by the arrow pointing to “neutron star” in the inset image, is well away from the center of the X-ray emission. If the supernova explosion occurred near the center of the X-ray emission then the neutron star must have received a powerful kick in the supernova explosion.

Data suggest this supernova remnant, as it appears in the image, is 600 and 1,200 years old. If the estimated location of the explosion is correct, this means the neutron star has been moving at a speed of at least 3 million miles per hour since the explosion.

Another intriguing aspect of G350.1-0.3 is its unusual shape. Many supernova remnants are nearly circular, but G350.1-0.3 is strikingly asymmetrical as seen in the Chandra data in this image (gold). Infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (light blue) also trace the morphology found by Chandra. Astronomers think that this bizarre shape is due to stellar debris field expanding into a nearby cloud of cold molecular gas.

The age of 600-1,200 years puts the explosion that created G350.1-0.3 in the same time frame as other famous supernovas that formed the Crab and SN 1006 supernova remnants. However, it is unlikely that anyone on Earth would have seen the explosion because of the obscuring gas and dust that lies along our line of sight to the remnant.

These results appeared in the April 10, 2011 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/I. Lovchinsky et al; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy Picture of the Day for November 10th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2011 November 10
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

RCW 86: Historical Supernova Remnant
Credit: X-ray: XMM-Newton, Chandra / IR: WISE, Spitzer 


 Explanation: In 185 AD, Chinese astronomers recorded the appearance of a new star in the Nanmen asterism – a part of the sky identified with Alpha and Beta Centauri on modern star charts. The new star was visible for months and is thought to be the earliest recorded supernova. This multiwavelength composite image from orbiting telescopes of the 21st century, XMM-Newton and Chandra in X-rays, and Spitzer and WISE in infrared, show supernova remnant RCW 86, understood to be the remnant of that stellar explosion. The false-color view shows interstellar gas heated by the expanding supernova shock wave at X-ray energies (blue and green) and interstellar dust radiating at cooler temperatures in infrared light (yellow and red). An abundance of the element iron and lack of a neutron star or pulsar in the remnant suggest that the original supernova was Type Ia. Type Ia supernovae are thermonuclear explosions that destroy a white dwarf star as it accretes material from a companion in a binary star system. Shock velocities measured in the X-ray emitting shell and infrared dust temperatures indicate that the remnant is expanding extremely rapidly into a remarkable low density bubble created before the explosion by the white dwarf system. Near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, RCW 86 is about 8,200 light-years away and has an estimated radius of 50 light-years.