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Supernova engulfs neighbouring stars
Posted: 30 March

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A new composite image combining Chandra and Spitzer space telescope data reveal the details of the dusty remains of a collapsed star as it engulfs its neighbours.

Composite image from NASA's Chandra (blue) and Spitzer (green and red-yellow) space telescopes shows the dusty remains of collapsed star G54.1+0.3. The white dot at the centre is a pulsar, generating a high energy ind of particles shown in blue. Nearby stars are engulfed by the dusty debris shell as it expands into space. Image: NASA/CXC/SAO T.Temim et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The new image shows a 20,000 light year distant star, known as G54.1+0.3, in X-ray and infrared light, highlighting the effect of its exploded remnants on its neighbouring stars. “Scientists think the stars in the image are part of a stellar cluster in which the supernova exploded,” says team leader Tea Temin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “The material ejected in the explosion is now blowing past these stars at high velocities.”

The image combines X-ray data from Chandra, shown in blue, with infrared data from Spitzer represented by green (shorter wavelength) and red-yellow (longer wavelength). The white spot at the centre shows the location of a pulsar, the dense, rapidly rotating remains of a core-collapse supernova. The pulsar is responsible for generating a wind of high-energy particles that imposes on the surrounds, lighting up the dusty debris ejected in the explosion.

Surrounding the pulsar wind is a shell of gas and dust condensed from the supernova fallout, illuminated in infrared by other stars in the cluster, with dust closest to the stars, where it is hottest, glowing yellow.

Dust which condenses from a supernova explosion is usually too cold to emit in the infrared, but the presence of the stellar cluster has enabled astronomers to make these rare observations. Normally it would not be possible to observe this dust until it becomes energised and heated by a shock wave from the supernova, but the very action of such shock heating would destroy many of the smaller dust particles.

The circumstances of G54.1+0.3 will allow astronomers to study the nature and quantity of this pristine dust before it is destroyed, providing important information on the way in which supernova explosions interact with their surrounds.