Magazine article Science News

Super Portrait: X-Ray Telescope Eyes Supernova Remnant

Magazine article Science News

Super Portrait: X-Ray Telescope Eyes Supernova Remnant

Article excerpt

When light from a massive star that exploded in the constellation Cassiopeia reached Earth some 340 years ago, few if any sky watchers recorded the event. But over the past several decades, the glowing remains of that explosion--a vast bubble of hot gas and dust called Cassiopeia A--has become one of the most studied supernova remnants in the heavens.

Trained on Cassiopeia A for viewing sessions totaling 11.5 days, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has now taken the most detailed portrait ever recorded of any supernova remnant. The image provides new evidence linking supernova explosions to gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic flashes of radiation in the cosmos, says Chandra researcher J. Martin Laming of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

Laming, Una Hwang of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and their colleagues analyzed the portrait of Cassiopeia A. At 10,000 light-years, it's the closest supernova remnant to Earth. NASA released the image of the remnant this week. The portrait contains about 200 times as much detail as a shorter exposure of the remnant taken by Chandra soon after its 1999 launch (SN: 10/21/00, p. 266).

The new image shows two oppositely directed jets, each about 10 light-years long, shooting out from the remnant's center. Previous images had shown only one jet. X-ray spectra reveal that the jets are rich in silicon ions and poor in iron. The iron deficiency suggests that the jets didn't trigger the explosion, as they would have carried large amounts of iron from the massive star's central region. …

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