Blast site blastocyte

Contributed by
Mar 25, 2011
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If you follow me on Twitter you may have figured out I'm otherwise occupied for right now, and have spotty internet access. But I happened to have a connection for a few minutes, and got a press release from the folks at Rutgers and the Chandra X-Ray Center about a supernova remnant, and the picture of this old exploded star was simply too cool not to share right away:

Pretty freaky, eh? [Click to ensupernovenate.]

The science involved is pretty interesting (see the Chandra page about it), but basically, this shows high-energy X-rays (in blue) and lower energy X-rays (in red) emitted by extremely hot gas in the supernova (the entire image is superposed on the correct background from the Digitized Sky Survey to show the positions of stars). This emission traces the magnetic fields in the gas (which is actually ionized and therefore a plasma), and this in turn has yielded some surprises for the scientists. Again read the page for the details, which are cool.

But in the meantime, the image itself gives an almost three-dimensional feel to the supernova remnant, doesn't it? The roiling gas is expanding away from the blast site at thousands of kilometers per second, driven by the explosion that, when it blew, was the equivalent of more than the energy given off by the Sun over its entire lifetime!

And the shape is almost biological, too. It looks a lot like a cell seen under a microscope... though as we know, biological appearances can be very deceiving.

Image credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/K.Eriksen et al.; Optical: DSS