Credit: E. Behar, Columbia Univ., NY, USA & ESA

The Universal Distribution Center

Complex elements are cooked up inside massive stars, i.e. stars with more than about 5 times the mass of the sun. These elements are distributed to the rest of the galaxy when the stars explode as supernovae (and more complex elements can be formed in the explosion). Thus supernovae are the centers of distribution of all the important elements necessary for complex chemistry and life. By studying X-ray emission from supernovae remnants, those clouds of ejecta produced when the exploded star material collides with the surrounding galactic gas and dust, astronomers are able to examine in detail how these elements are distributed. The image above of the supernova remnant N132D in the Large Magellanic Cloud was obtained by the EPIC camera on the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory. This image shows X-ray emission produced by important signature elements like oxygen (O), silicon (Si), neon (Ne), iron (Fe) and magnesium (Mg). In each sub-image, the bright regions show where each ion of each particular element is most abundant, and indicates how the stellar explosion has spread material non-uniformly to rest of the galaxy near the star.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified December 4, 2001