X-ray an optical image of the Puppis SNR
Credit: Chandra: NASA/CXC/Middlebury College/F.Winkler et al; ROSAT: NASA/GSFC/S.Snowden et al.; Optical: NOAO/AURA/NSF/Middlebury College/F.Winkler et al.

Equal and Opposite Reaction

It's hard to believe the explosions of stars are perfectly symmetric. It's hard to believe they aren't, either. But one of these unlikely scenarios has to be true. A non-symmetric explosion has been recently identified by scientists using the Chandra X-ray observatory. The image above shows a composite ROSAT X-ray (pink) and CTIO optical (purple) image of the Puppis A supernova remnant. A Chandra observation of this supernova remnant in 1999 clearly resolved the compact object, a neutron star, left behind by the supernova explosion. The neutron star is shown in the inset in 2 Chandra images, one from 1999 and a recent one from 2005. Careful comparison of the 2 images show that during the intervening years the neutron star shifted its position ever-so-slightly, but large enough to be clearly revealed by Chandra. This measured shift shows that the neutron star is moving at more than 3 million miles an hour as a result of the titanic, lopsided forces on it during the explosion. This is faster than the escape velocity from the Milky Way, so eventually this object will leave the Galaxy for the desert of the intergalactic void. But according to Newton, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. This universal law holds true in this celestial laboratory: the bright nebulosity, composed of clumps of oxygen and other elements, are moving opposite to the neutron star (in the direction of the arrows), preserving the momentum of the system.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:20:51 EDT

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