Cosmic Leftovers

DEM L 190These delicate filaments are actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small companion galaxy to the Milky Way visible from the southern hemisphere. This remnant, know as N49 or DEM L 190, is from a massive star that died in a supernova blast thousands of years ago. This filamentary material will eventually be recycled into building new generations of stars in the LMC. Our own Sun and planets were formed from similar debris of supernovae that exploded in our own galaxy billions of years ago.

These filaments harbor a very powerful spinning neutron star that may be the central remnant from the supernova. It is quite common for the core of an exploded supernova star to become a spinning neutron star (or pulsar) after the immediate shedding of the supernova’s outer layers.  The pulsar in N 49 is spinning at a rate of once every 8 seconds. It also has a super-strong magnetic field a thousand trillion times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. This places this star into the exclusive class of objects called “magnetars.”

Image Credit: NASA

A Speeding Bullet?

What is that strange blue blob on the far right of the frame? It might be a speeding remnant of a powerful supernova that was unexpectedly lopsided. The debris from supernova explosion N49 lights up this composite image from the Chandra and Hubble Space Telescopes. Glowing visible filaments (yellow) and x-ray hot gas invisible to the naked eye (blue) span about 30 light-years in our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Light from the original exploding star reached Earth thousands of years ago, but N49 also marks the location of another energetic outburst—an extremely intense blast of gamma rays detected by satellites on 5 March, 1979. The source of the 1979 event is now believed to be a magnetar—a highly magnetized, spinning neutron star also born in the explosion which created supernova remnant N49. The magnetar, visible near the top of the image, hurtles through the supernova debris cloud at over 70,000 km/h. The blue blob on the far right may have been expelled asymmetrically just as a massive star was exploding. It now appears to be moving over 7,000,000 km/h. That’s fast enough to cover the distance from the Sun to the Earth in less than a day.

Image Credit: NASA