Credit: ESA and XMM-Newton SOC

Death of a Faraway Star

In January of this year a titanic explosion rocked a distant galaxy M74. The explosion occurred in January 2002 (though in reality the explosion occurred 20 million years prior to January 2002, since the galaxy is about 20 million light years from earth). This explosion is suspected by some astronomers to represent a so-called "hypernova", the complete destruction of a star and one of the most powerful explosions known to exist. Such explosions play a role in shaping galaxies, in producing complex chemicals, and in triggering new star formation, and so understanding how they happen provides astronomers with a key to understanding the evolution of galaxies and the Universe. Now astronomers have a new piece of vital evidence, since the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory managed to observe SN 2002ap ust a few days after discovery and to image the explosion using its ultraviolet and X-ray cameras. The image above left shows a Palomer Sky Survey image of M74 prior to the explosion. The middle image shows the XMM-Newton UV image of the supernova obtained with the Optical Monitor. The location of the supernova is marked by an arrow. The image on the right shows an X-ray image of the supernova obtained by the XMM-Newton EPIC/PN camera. The supernova's position is marked by the circle. Astronomers can use the XMM-Newton observation to help identify the type of star that exploded, and to understand how the fireball expands into the galaxy.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified March 11, 2002