Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

UMass Astronomers Exploring How Exploded Stars Are Swept Back Into The Universe

Date:
June 17, 2002
Source:
University Of Massachusetts At Amherst
Summary:
Two astronomers at the University of Massachusetts have observed the remains of exploded stars called supernovae in two "neighbor" galaxies of our own Milky Way.

AMHERST, Mass. – Two astronomers at the University of Massachusetts have observed the remains of exploded stars called supernovae in two "neighbor" galaxies of our own Milky Way. The report on their observations is being presented today by postdoctoral researcher Rosa Murphy Williams and faculty member Q. Daniel Wang, in collaboration with You-Hua Chu and John Dickel of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Albuquerque, N.M. These results provide new insight into the distribution of gas shocked by the supernova blast wave, and the structure of material between stars, the researchers said. The findings expand our understanding of the long-term evolution of a star after it explodes, and of how the remnants of a star are ultimately swept back into the universe.

The authors are presenting a series of observations made with new satellite-based telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the X-Ray Multi-Mirror Mission, all of which reveal the supernova remnants in two of our neighboring galaxies in unprecedented detail, Williams said. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are small galaxies adjacent to our own Milky Way, about 160,000 and 190,000 light-years from Earth, respectively. The findings combine a review of previous research, along with newer findings and observations by the UMass team.

"When a massive star nears the end of its lifespan, its internal fusion reactions can no longer support the mass against gravity," explained Williams. "The star implodes and, within a fraction of a second, rebounds in a tremendous explosion in which much of the star's material is flung outward at speeds of about 20 million miles per hour." This violent outburst sweeps up interstellar dust and debris in its path like a natural snowplow, Williams said, forming an expanding sphere of gas and dust which can reach more than a hundred light-years in diameter. After approximately 100,000 years the expansion slows considerably, and the supernova remnants merge with their surroundings. The process by which supernova remnants interact with interstellar residue and eventually merge with it is the puzzle that Williams and Wang are probing.

These supernova remnants are the means by which energy and heavy elements produced by supernovae are distributed throughout the host galaxy. Supernovae are, in fact, the only known source of heavy elements such as iron and calcium, many of which are vital to human life, Wang noted. "Human bodies are made of heavy elements, such as iron and calcium, which were synthesized during supernova explosions," he said. "The evolution of supernova remnants further determines how the elements are redistributed into the interstellar space, from which new stars and planets are formed. The UMass team's research is filling a gap in our understanding of this chemical distribution and evolution in galaxies."

Probing the deaths of stars, page two

Although previous research has been conducted involving supernova remnants, much of that research has focused on remnants in our own Milky Way galaxy. There are some disadvantages to studying remnants so close to home, Williams said. Material in our own galaxy blocks our view of the remnants, as though they were being viewed through a fog. But recent advances in scientific instrumentation, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, have made it possible for scientists to see supernova remnants in neighboring galaxies as though they were much closer.

"This provides us with a much better idea of what happens long after the star explodes," Williams said. The UMass study has combined past images with newer, high-resolution ones, revealing a new level of detail in multi-wavelength pictures that rely on X-ray, optical, and radio data, she said.

Many objects in the two neighboring galaxies that the UMass astronomers studied – the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud – have been researched during the past 30 years, Williams notes, but have been the subject of increased scientific focus as instrumentation has improved. "Hubble and Chandra have given us, practically, a quantum leap forward in terms of what we can see," Williams said. "What seems to happen is that as the supernovae sweep up more material, that affects their 'aging' process," Williams said.

"Essentially, we do forensic science on dead stars, and on what happens to them physically and chemically as they 'decompose.' We're not looking for the cause of death, but rather for clues as to what happens when the body returns to the soil," Williams said. "We know what elements will remain, but we don't know how those elements get from the supernova's explosion to help form the next generation of planets and stars. That's what we're looking for, and we're just starting to see the beginning stages of that."

The supernova remnants that the team is exploring seem to be going through the aging process, cooling and collecting interstellar material, much more quickly than usual. This has given the UMass team a rare opportunity to watch the process before the star fades out entirely.

###

Related images are available at: http://xray.astro.umass.edu/~rosanina/press1.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. "UMass Astronomers Exploring How Exploded Stars Are Swept Back Into The Universe." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2002. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/06/020606074646.htm>.
University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. (2002, June 17). UMass Astronomers Exploring How Exploded Stars Are Swept Back Into The Universe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/06/020606074646.htm
University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. "UMass Astronomers Exploring How Exploded Stars Are Swept Back Into The Universe." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/06/020606074646.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

AP (July 22, 2014) A Russian Soyuz cargo-carrying spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Monday. The craft is due to undergo about ten days of engineering tests before it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

AP (July 21, 2014) NASA honored one of its most famous astronauts Monday by renaming a historic building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It now bears the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins