Credit: NASA/CNR/L.Piro et al.

Best-Looking Burst

Titanic explosions called gamma ray bursts are produced by the death of an extremely massive star (containing perhaps 100 times the mass of the sun), or so goes current theory. These titanic explosions, called "hypernovae" are similar to more familiar "supernovae", though hypernovae are much more powerful. Hypernovae are recognized by the enormous amounts of gamma-rays they produce; as the blast wave encounters other nearby stars and clouds of gas, the interaction produces a strong shock which generates enormous amounts of x-radiation. Since X-ray telescopes have much better spatial resolution than gamma-ray telescopes, astronomers find are able to pinpoint the source of the gamma ray burst best using X-ray observations. One exciting new X-ray observation of a gamma ray burst is shown above. The burst occurred on February 22, 2001, and this explosion was captured with the ACIS camera on the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Since Chandra has the best spatial resolution of any X-ray observatory ever flown, this image is arguably the best image yet obtained of a gamma-ray burst. The ACIS observation helps confirm and constrain the hypernova model, and helps astronomers understand the life cycle of star-forming regions, where the death of one big star might lead to the formation of many smaller ones.

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Each week the HEASARC brings you new, exciting and beautiful images from X-ray and Gamma ray astronomy. Check back each week and be sure to check out the HEAPOW archive!

Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified April 9, 2001