X-ray telescope lets astronomers see into the heart of a supernova

Feb. 19, 2014 at 5:32 PM   |   Comments

BERKELEY, Calif., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Astronomers say a NASA space observatory has allowed them to peer into the heart of an exploding star in the final minutes of its existence for the first time.

Such observations are one of the primary goals of NASA's NuSTAR mission, launched in June 2012 to measure high-energy X-ray emissions from exploding stars, they said.

While the well-known supernova remnant known as Cassiopeia A has been photographed by many optical, infrared and X-ray telescopes in the past, NuSTAR has produced the first map of high-energy X-ray emissions from material created in the actual core of the exploding star that produced the remnant, astronomers said.

The material is the radioactive isotope titanium-44, which was produced in the star's core as it collapsed to a neutron star or black hole.

"This has been a holy grail observation for high energy astrophysics for decades," said study co-author and NuSTAR investigator Steven Boggs of the University of California, Berkeley.

"For the first time we are able to image the radioactive emission in a supernova remnant, which lets us probe the fundamental physics of the nuclear explosion at the heart of the supernova like we have never been able to do before."

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