G292 color image
Credit: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J. Hughes et al.

Stellar Post-Mortem

Very massive stars (stars about 10 times as massive as the sun) end their lives by exploding as supernovae. But because supernovae are relatively rare (the last one in the Milky Way was more than 400 years ago), astronomers are usually unable to definitively associate a particular massive star with a particular supernova. In fact, theres only one supernova for which a precursor star has been identified (SN 1987a), and in that case the precursor star was not what astronomers expected. Now the Chandra X-ray Telescope has allowed astronomers to perform a "post-mortem" on a supernova remnant called G292.0+1.8 to help identify the precursor star. The image above shows X-ray emission from this supernova remnant, the remains of a star which exploded about 1600 years ago. The bluish material in the picture is produced by oxygen rich material, while the whitish and yellowish emission is not heavily enriched. Since the types of elements cooked up inside a massive star depends on the star's mass, astronomers can use the distribution of chemical elements in the supernova remnant to help identify the precursor star.

Last Week * HEA Dictionary * Archive * Search HEAPOW * Education

Each week the HEASARC brings you new, exciting and beautiful images from X-ray and Gamma ray astronomy. Check back each week and be sure to check out the HEAPOW archive!

Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified November 5, 2001