Starbursts and Stellar Deaths

M82, at a distance of 11 million light years, is a rare nearby starburst galaxy where very massive stars are forming and expiring at a rate ten times higher than in our galaxy. These very massive stars are extremely luminous and use up their nuclear fuel very quickly. When all the fuel is gone, the star collapses on itself, and this collapse produces a supernova explosion. The large numbers of very massive stars in M82 produce a very high rate of supernovae. These supernovae produce superhot (6 million degree) gas which explodes into and out of the galaxy. In the image on the left above (obtained by the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer on the Chandra X-ray Observatory) this hot gas is clearly seen exploding beyond the galaxy, along with a number of point sources at the center of the galaxies. These point sources are probably the collapsed remnants of supernovae. The image on the right shows the optical image of the galaxy superimposed on the X-ray image. Chandra's precise x-ray images of this starburst wind, together with optical, infrared and radio images, will enable astronomers to study all the components of a starburst, from the formation of stars to the explosion of matter out of the galaxy.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified May 22, 2000