Oct. 26, 2001 NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. – A team of astronomers led by Rutgers Professor John P. Hughes has made an important new discovery using NASA's orbital Chandra X-ray Observatory.
The astronomers have found what appears to be a pulsar at the center of the exploded remains of a 1,600-year-old supernova. Pulsars, first discovered in 1967, are known to be rapidly rotating neutron stars, formed in supernova explosions. They emit regular bursts or pulses of radio waves, X-rays and optical light.
"For the first time, we have an oxygen-rich supernova remnant close enough for detailed study, with almost incontrovertible evidence for the existence of an associated pulsar," said Hughes.
"Based on the pattern of elements now revealed by Chandra throughout this remnant, we will be able to ascertain the mass and composition of the star that gave rise to what we now see. This will allow us to make a much closer connection between pulsars and the massive stars from which they formed."
Supernovae are of great interest to astronomers because they are one of the primary sources of the heavy elements necessary to form planets and people. Supernovae are rare, occurring only once every 50 years or so in a galaxy like our own.
Located in the Southern Hemisphere in the constellation Centaurus, the supernova remnant (labeled G292.0+1.8) studied by Hughes and his group shows a rapidly expanding shell of gas 36 light-years across surrounding the apparent pulsar.
It is one of three known oxygen-rich supernovae in our galaxy and is among the 10 brightest supernova remnants known.
A full account of the discovery can be found in "A Pulsar Wind Nebula in the Oxygen-Rich Supernova Remnant G292.0+1.8," published in the Oct. 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The research team also included Patrick Slane (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory), David Burrows, Gordon Garmire and John Nousek (Pennsylvania State University), and Charles Olbert and Jonathan Keohane (North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics).
The Chandra X-ray Observatory is NASA's newest space telescope and is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. Chandra has eight times greater resolution and can detect sources more than 20 times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope. Chandra was launched by the Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999 with an orbit 200 times higher than the Hubble Space Telescope. It detects images from X-ray sources that are billions of light-years away.
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