A star explodes, and its contents -- trillions of tons of carbon, iron, calcium, and other heavy elements -- suddenly race into the surrounding interstellar medium, forming a colorful, wispy remnant which will ultimately seed new stars, planets and life itself.
The Chandra X-ray Observatory is providing unprecedented views of the remains from exploding stars. In a lecture open to press registered for the 199th American Astronomical Society meeting, Dr. Una Hwang of the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will describe how Chandra's advances are revealing details never seen before about the death of stars and the dispersal of their remains.
The lecture, "New Views of Supernova Remnants with the Chandra Observatory," is an invited talk to be held Monday, January 7 at 3:40 p.m. during the 199th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. The lecture will be presented in the International Ballroom Center of the Hilton Washington and Towers hotel, 1919 Connecticut Ave, N.W., which is hosting the meeting.
"Ordinary stars and especially exploding stars, or supernovae, are the source of all the heavy elements in the Universe, including those that make up our bodies," said Hwang. "Supernova remnants are the aftermath of supernova explosions, and Chandra is revealing just how complex and beautiful they truly are."
Supernovae are among the most powerful explosions in the Universe, briefly shining with the brilliance of a hundred billion Suns. Triggered either by the cataclysmic collapse of a massive star's core, or by uncontrolled nuclear burning that starts in the core of a white dwarf star, the supernova shock wave rips through the star's outer layers, blasting them to space to form "supernova remnants" that eventually span trillions of miles.
In this violent outburst, the atoms that make up the star are fused to form even heavier elements, and are flung out into space, where they are eventually recycled to form a new generation of stars and planets. Much of the matter in supernova remnants is so hot it radiates in X-rays, which is why an X-ray telescope is so important for studying the remnants.
"Chandra has two important advances that help us understand supernova remnants," said Hwang. "First, it can make high-resolution X-ray pictures, which are necessary to see how material is being distributed in the remnant. Second, it can analyze the X-ray images via spectroscopy to determine the composition, temperature, and motion of material in the remnant. These are clues to help us learn about the explosion and its aftermath."
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was launched and deployed by the Space Shuttle Columbia in July of 1999, is the most sophisticated X-ray observatory built to date. Chandra is designed to observe X-rays from the Universe, including those from the remnants of exploded stars.
For a picture of a supernova remnant by Chandra, refer to: http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/cycle1/cas_a062700/index.html
For more information about Chandra, go to: http://chandra.harvard.edu/