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Energetic X-Rays Seen for First Time From Young Supernova

July 31, 2012 (TSR) – This image of spiral galaxy M83 shows off the galaxy’s glittering stars and gas in energetic X-rays.

Taken using NASA’s Chandra space telescope, the picture also represents the first time that astronomers have been able to detect X-ray wavelengths coming from the collapsed core of supernova 1957D.

M83 Supernova

A supernova in spiral galay M83 emits X-rays.

Supernovas occur when an enormous star — at least eight times the mass of our sun — runs out of fuel and dies. The resulting collapse releases a huge burst of energy and heavy elements, with the light from the explosion sometimes outshining all the other stars in a galaxy. After the fireworks, the star leaves behind a remnant core of very dense material that either forms a neutron star or a black hole.

SN 1957D exploded a little more than a half century ago in M83, which lies about 15 million light-years away from Earth. Relatively little information is known about the supernova. Astronomers have been able to detect other wavelengths of light, such as radio and optical, coming from the dead star’s core for decades, but no one has been able to find any X-rays emitted from SN1957D.

Chandra first searched for X-rays coming from the supernova in 2000 and 2001, but the relatively short observation turned up empty. By staring at SN 1957D for eight and a half days, Chandra was able to gather enough data to see the supernova in X-ray wavelengths.

The observation gives astronomers a closer look at the aftermath of a supernova. The X-ray data suggests that SN 1957D left behind a rapidly spinning core after its cataclysmic detonation. Shafts of light emerging from the core travel around like lighthouse beams, forming an object called a pulsar. If the core did form such an object, it is one of the youngest pulsars ever seen, at 55 years old.

The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/STScI/K.Long et al., Optical: NASA/STScI

Source: Wired Science, authored by Adam Mann

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