Sloshing Supernova

  • Released Thursday, January 29th, 2015
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:50PM
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Cassiopeia A used to be a bright, shining star like our sun. Now, all that remains after the star’s violent explosion, called a supernova, is just a gassy shell. Because it burst only around 330 years ago—a blink of an eye in cosmic time—this supernova remnant is helping researchers understand how massive stars die. To unravel the story of Cassiopeia A’s demise, astronomers turned to NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, spacecraft. An imager aboard the spacecraft can detect high-energy X-rays emitted by radioactive isotopes produced during a star's collapse. The distribution of these X-rays observed around Cassiopeia A suggests supernova explosions are a messy business: As a star collapses in on itself, bubbles of hot gas slosh out from the core in uneven shock waves, resulting in a big, blobby eruption. Watch the video to see a 3-D computer simulation of a supernova explosion.

Cassiopeia A (above) is a supernova remnant located 11,000 light-years from Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.

Cassiopeia A (above) is a supernova remnant located 11,000 light-years from Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.

This image shows the distribution of high-energy X-rays in Cassiopeia A detected by NuSTAR.

This image shows the distribution of high-energy X-rays in Cassiopeia A detected by NuSTAR.

The NuSTAR spacecraft launched in 2012. Its twin “eyes” (right), each made of 133 mirrors, focus X-rays 33 feet toward detectors on the left.

The NuSTAR spacecraft launched in 2012. Its twin “eyes” (right), each made of 133 mirrors, focus X-rays 33 feet toward detectors on the left.


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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Video and images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech