Supernova Remnant W49B
January 8, 2010—One of the first two "fossil" fireballs ever detected glows deep in the supernova remnant W49B, according to a new study based on data from the Japan-U.S. Suzaku x-ray observatory. In the composite picture above, red and green represent infrared images of the remnant taken by ground-based telescopes, while blue shows x-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.
W49B, which sits 35,000 light-years from Earth, is the glowing cloud of gas and dust left behind by the death of a massive star. As such stars age, they shed their outer layers, forming cocoons of gas and dust around dense cores. When the core explodes, it's believed that the initial blast wave can heat the cocoon to temperatures as high as 100 million degrees Fahrenheit (55 million degrees Celsius)—10,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun.
The debris then quickly thins and cools as it expands, creating a supernova remnant. Suzaku's highly sensitive x-ray vision allowed astronomers to spot the embers of the high-temperature inferno within that remnant, which immediately followed the blast that created W49B.
Suzaku's data revealed a region in the heart of the remnant in which iron atoms have been almost completely stripped of their electrons. For this to have happened, temperatures in the region must have been more than 55 million degrees Fahrenheit (30.5 million degrees Celsius)—about twice as hot as the remnant appears today.
PHOTOS: "Fossil" Fireballs Found in Supernova Debris
New x-ray pictures from the Suzaku space telescope have revealed the embers of high-temperature infernos that immediately followed the explosive deaths of two massive stars, astronomers say.