Resembling the puffs of smoke and sparks from a summer fireworks display in
this image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, these delicate filaments are
actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in a neighboring galaxy.
Hubble's target was a supernova remnant within the Large Magellanic Cloud
(LMC), a nearby, small companion galaxy to the Milky Way visible from the
Denoted N 49, or DEM L 190, this remnant is from a massive star that died
in a supernova blast whose light would have reached Earth thousands of years
ago. This filamentary material will eventually be recycled into building new
generations of stars in the LMC. Our own Sun and planets are constructed
from similar debris of supernovae that exploded in the Milky Way billions
of years ago.
This seemingly gentle structure also harbors a very powerful spinning neutron
star that may be the central remnant from the initial blast. It is quite common
for the core of an exploded supernova star to become a spinning neutron star
(also called a pulsar - because of the regular pulses of energy from the rotational
spin) after the immediate shedding of the star's outer layers. In the case of N 49,
not only is the neutron star spinning at a rate of once every 8 seconds, it also
has a super-strong magnetic field a thousand trillion times stronger than Earth's
magnetic field. This places this star into the exclusive class of objects called
The Hubble Heritage image of N 49 is a color representation of data taken in
July 2000, with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Color filters were used to
sample light emitted by sulfur ([S II]), oxygen ([O III]), and hydrogen (H-alpha).
The color image has been superimposed on a black-and-white image of stars in the
same field also taken with Hubble.
Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: Y.-H. Chu (UIUC), S. Kulkarni (Caltech) and R. Rothschild (UCSD)