Credit: Left: ROSAT Project and MPE; Right: NASA/SAO/CXC

The Vicinity of a Supernova

An explosion in the constellation of Vela occurred about 10,000 years ago, leaving behind a large, broken bubble of hot gas and a rapidly spinning, dense stellar core known as a neutron star. To fully understand this explosion and its aftermath, astronomers are faced with the difficult problem of trying to understand the "big picture", without glossing over important physical processes which occur on much smaller scales. One way astronomers deal with this problem is to use a combination of complementary observing tools. The image on the above left shows the nearly spherical boundary of the supernova as seen in rather low-resolution by the ROSAT satellite. This ROSAT image allows astronomers to study the overall properties of the remnant produced by the explosion, though in rather coarse detail. The image on the right shows a closer view obtained by the Chandra x-ray observatory of the Vela pulsar (the compact remains of the exploded star) along with the pulsar's "wind nebula" and more distant clouds of million-degree gas produced by the supernova. The Chandra image contains an enormous amount of data though over a smaller region of the supernova remnant. By utilizing observations with different spatial resolutions, astronomers are able to put together a more complete picture of the nature of the stellar explosion.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified August 27, 2001