Supernova splatters stars

Observations of a supernova in three wavelength regimes has shown how material from the devastating explosion has covered nearby stars with a dusty envelope that has allowed astronomers to catch sight of a rare opportunity.

The star is G54.1+0.3, lying 20,000 light years from the Earth. At the very centre of the maelstrom, a white dot indicates the position of a rapidly rotating neutron star known as a pulsar. The neutron star is the remnant of the stellar core, crushed by the infalling outer layers of the star as energy intensive fusion of iron and heavier metals froze and contracted the core.

The blue region captured by the Chandra x-ray space telescope shows the highest energy winds and radiation from the neutron star lighting up the local area, impacting on the gas released during the supernova explosion. Further out, red glows captured by the Spitzer infrared space telescope show gas and dust from the explosion enveloping nearby stars and getting heated up by them. The stars are believed to be part of the star cluster that gave birth to the exploded massive star. Their presence has allowed the dust to be warmed sufficiently to be observable in the infrared, a rare thing. Normally events that warm up dust are violent and destroy smaller particles, this is one chance to see pristine space dust directly.

The stars and other things in the background are provided by visible light observations by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO T.Temim et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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