NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has imaged the glowing shell created by the
destruction of a massive star. X-rays, shown in blue, from Chandra, combined
with optical data, shown in green, and radio data, shown in red, reveal new
details in the supernova remnant known as N63A, located in the nearby galaxy of
Large Magellanic Cloud. The X-ray glow is from material heated to about ten
million degrees Celsius by a shock wave generated by the supernova explosion.
The age of the remnant is estimated to be in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 years.

To get the full story of N63A, Jessica Warren and John P. Hughes of Rutgers
University, and Patrick Slane of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
also employed data from other wavelengths. Optical and radio emissions are
brightest in the central region of the remnant, which appears as a
triangular-shaped “hole” in the X-ray image. The hole is produced by the
absorption of X-rays in a dense cloud of cooler gas on the side of the remnant
nearest Earth.

A comparison of the X-ray image with the radio and optical images suggests that
the shock wave is engulfing this massive cloud of dust and gas, and we see only
the edge of the cloud nearest Earth. Collisions of such as this are thought to
trigger the formation of a new generation of stars.

The fluffy crescent-shaped X-ray features that appear around the edge of the
remnant are thought to be fragments of high-speed matter shot out from the star
when it exploded, like shrapnel from a bomb. In the only other supernova remnant
— the Vela supernova remnant — where such features have been observed, the
crescent shapes are clearly produced by ejecta fragments. An alternative
explanation is that they were produced when the shock wave swept over
less-massive clouds located several light years away from the site of the explosion.

Chandra observed N63A on October 16, 2000 for more than 11 hours. These results
were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters in January 20, 2003.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra
program for the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington. Northrop
Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., formerly TRW, Inc., was the prime development
contractor for the observatory. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in
Cambridge, Mass.


Image credits: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Warren et al.