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ScienceShot: X-raying a Supernova Factory

24 May 2011 4:15 pm
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NASA/CXC/PSU/L. Townsley et al.

Each of the 14,370 pinpricks of light in this x-ray image is a hot, young star in the Carina Nebula—a giant cloud of gas and dust some 7500 light-years from Earth where new stars are being born. Obtained by NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, the new mosaic image was presented today at the summer meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston. Chandra doubled the number of massive stars that are known in the nebula, which is only a few million years old. Such stars end their brief lives in titanic supernova explosions, so supernovae in Carina must also be twice as frequent as had been assumed until now—and the same might be true for other star-forming regions in our galaxy. Moreover, Chandra has found six neutron stars—the hot, dense remains of supernova explosions—in the stellar nursery. So the celestial fireworks must have already begun, and the next star could detonate tomorrow.

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