November 15th, 2012 by James Ayre
The enormous aftershock of a stellar explosion moving through space was recently imaged by the ESA’s Herschel and XMM-Newton space observatories. This image of the supernova remnant, W44, is a composite image made from far-infrared and X-ray data.
W44 is located about 10,000 light-years away from us, inside of a ‘forest’ of very dense star-forming clouds in the constellation of Aquila, the Eagle. It’s currently one of the few places where researchers can clearly observe a supernova remnant interacting with its parent molecular cloud.
“The product of a massive star that has already reached the end of its life and expelled its outer layers in a dramatic explosion, all that remains of the stellar behemoth is the spinning core of a neutron star, or pulsar.”
The pulsar, PSR B1853+01, is the very bright point in the image, located to the top left, and colored light blue in this picture.
“It is thought to be around 20,000 years old and as it rapidly rotates it sweeps out a wind of highly energetic particles and beams of light ranging from radio to X-ray energies.”
“The centre of the supernova remnant is also bright in X-rays, coming from the hot gas that fills the shell, at temperatures of several million degrees. Dense knots of high-energy emission reflect regions where heavier elements are more commonly found.”
“At the cooler edge of the cavity, gas is swept up as the supernova remnant propagates through space.”
“At the top right of the expanding shell, there is a smaller cavity, with the shock from the supernova remnant impacting the bight arc-shaped feature. This region is filled with hot gas that has been ionised by the intense ultraviolet radiation from embedded young massive stars.”
“Herschel’s far-infrared eyes can also seek out regions of gently heated gas and dust further from W44, where new stars are congregating.”
“Examples include the arrowhead-shaped star-formation region to the right of W44, which appears to point to another trio of intricate clouds further to the right and above.”
“More broadly, a number of compact objects scattered across the scene map the cold seeds of future stars that will eventually emerge from their dusty cocoons.”
“Finally, diffuse purple emission towards the bottom left of the image provides a glimpse of the Galactic plane.”
Source: European Space Agency
Image Credits: Herschel: Q. Nguyen Luong & F. Motte, HOBYS Key Program consortium, Herschel SPIRE/PACS/ESA consortia. XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton
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