Destruction can be beautiful, as this recent composite image from Chandra and Hubble shows us. Approximately 5,000 years ago, a massive star in the Large Magellanic Cloud destroyed itself, leaving us to gaze at a gorgeous remnant and learn a thing or two about the physics of a supernova.
A core-collapse supernova occurs when a star at least eight times the mass of our sun runs out of fuel for nuclear fusion in its core. It attempts to fuse iron into heavier elements, but instead of supporting the star, this speeds up the star’s collapse, which rebounds as a hugely energetic explosion. These catastrophic events can create neutron stars and black holes and can outshine the host galaxy of the star.
Supernovae leave glowing remnants for millennia to come. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory data is shown above in blue and Hubble Space Telescope data in yellow and purple. The x-ray image shows a “bullet” of material, at the lower right, speeding away from the believed source of the explosion, a neutron star towards the top of the remnant. Such a geometry indicates that the explosion was not perfectly symmetric as the faint bullet speeds away at 5 million miles an hour.
It took 30 hours of observing time with Chandra to detect this speedy little structure. There are other lines of evidence for asymmetric supernovae, such as high-velocity pulsars which are speeding away from the galaxy after receiving a “kick” from the off-center supernovae that birthed them.
So don’t get too comfortable in this universe of ours. As we’ve shown time and time again here, the universe can be a wacky, unpredictable, and violent place. Nevertheless, it sure is pretty.
Image Credit: X-ray: (NASA/CXC/Penn State/S.Park et al.); Optical: NASA/STScI/UIUC/Y.H.Chu & R.Williams et al