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G54.1+0.3: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

  • A new composite image of Chandra and Spitzer data shows G54.1+0.3, the dusty remains of a collapsed star.

  • X-rays from Chandra reveal a wind of high-energy particles from the pulsar at the center of the image.

  • The Spitzer data shows an infrared shell around the pulsar that is made of gas and dust that condensed from the supernova.

A new image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope shows the dusty remains of a collapsed star. The dust is flying past and engulfing a nearby family of stars. Scientists think the stars in the image are part of a stellar cluster in which the a supernova exploded. The material ejected in the explosion is now blowing past these stars at high velocities.

The composite image of G54.1+0.3 shows X-rays from Chandra in blue, and data from Spitzer in green (shorter wavelength infrared) and red-yellow (longer wavelength infrared). The white source near the center of the image is a dense, rapidly rotating neutron star, or "pulsar," left behind after a core-collapse supernova explosion. The pulsar generates a wind of high-energy particles -- seen in the Chandra data -- that expands into the surrounding environment, illuminating the material ejected in the supernova explosion.

The infrared shell that surrounds the pulsar wind is made up of gas and dust that condensed out of debris from the supernova. As the cold dust expands into the surroundings, it is heated and lit up by the stars in the cluster so that it is observable in the infrared. The dust closest to the stars is the hottest and is seen to glow in yellow in the image. Some of the dust is also being heated by the expanding pulsar wind as it overtakes the material in the shell.

The unique environment into which this supernova exploded makes it possible for astronomers to observe the condensed dust from the supernova that is usually too cold to emit in the infrared. Without the presence of the stellar cluster, it would not be possible to observe this dust until it becomes energized and heated by a shock wave from the supernova. However, the very action of such shock heating would destroy many of the smaller dust particles. In G54.1+0.3, astronomers are observing pristine dust before any such destruction.

Fast Facts for G54.1+0.3:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/T.Temim et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Release Date  March 29, 2010
Scale  Image is 3 arcmin across (about 17 light years across).
Category  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants, Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 19h 30m 30s | Dec +18° 52´ 14"
Constellation  Sagitta
Observation Date  07/08/08, 07/10/08, 07/12/08, 07/15/08
Observation Time  81 hours (3 days 9 hours)
Obs. ID  9886, 9108, 9109, 9887
Instrument  ACIS
References Temim, T, et al, ApJ 710:309-324, 2010 February 10
Color Code  X-ray (Blue), Infrared 24 micron (Red-Yellow), Infrared 8 micron (Green)
Distance Estimate  About 20,000 light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (4)

This is breathtaking. This should be made available to students in elementary school.

Posted by Henry Hicks on Monday, 04.5.10 @ 19:27pm

Amazing how mankind can go that far with their instruments hope someday we can go in person.

Posted by Felipe Cervantes-Sotelo on Wednesday, 03.31.10 @ 12:15pm

Is it possible that black hole creation is almost at a halt? Since most of the first generation gargantuan stars are now black holes, this leaves pulsars and heavy amounts of stellar debris without orientation. Which might create gigantic heavy dust fields that might in turn create gargantuan stars again repeating the cycle. Thanks, awesome work.

Posted by Ben on Tuesday, 03.30.10 @ 06:22am

How beautiful is the universe we live in. I have the greatest admiration for such explorers like you.

Posted by David Stalker on Monday, 03.29.10 @ 19:16pm

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