IC 443 Neutron Star
Credit: NASA/NCSSM/C. Olbert et al.

High School Confidential: Stellar Corpse Found

Supernova remnants are shrouds of gas thrown into space by an explosions of a star. In some cases the stars are blown apart completely, but in other cases the dense core of the star remains. Discovering such a stellar "corpse" provides astronomers with important information about the supernova explosion (like whether the explosion happens equally in all directions), so astronomers spend a great deal of effort trying to identify the dead stars within the remnant shrouds. In general this search can be difficult, since the stellar corpses are extremely small (typically less than 20 kilometers in diameter) and therefore are hard to detect. But these dead stars may be extremely hot and may be strong X-ray sources, so X-ray satellites like the Chandra X-ray observatory can provide the best means of finding them. Recently three high school students (Charles Olbert, Christopher Clearfield, and Nikolas Williams, from the North Carolina School for Science and Mathematics in Durham, NC), used data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA), to find the first evidence of a neutron star in the nearby supernova remnant IC443, a system long studied by professional astronomers. These students obtained an image of IC 443 with the ACIS camera on Chandra. The ACIS image (above) showed a bright point of X-radiation (seen as the white dot in the image above) which appears to be surrounded by a "trailing wake" of hot x-ray emitting gas (the bluish haze in the picture above). The shape of the wake allowed the students to estimate the speed of the neutron star, and by measuring the distance of the neutron star from the center of the remnant, the students were able to show that the star exploded about 25,000 years ago.

Last Week * HEA Dictionary * Archive * Search HEAPOW * Education

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 January 7, 2001