NASA’s NuSTAR Telescope Gets First Peek at Core of Supernova

Image: Map of radioactivity in a supernova remnant
NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has created the first map of radioactive material in a supernova remnant, the blown-out bits and pieces of a massive star that exploded. The blue color shows radioactive material mapped in high-energy X-rays using NuSTAR. Heated, non-radioactive elements previously imaged by the Chandra orbiting using low-energy X-rays are shown in red, yellow and green. NASA / JPL-Caltech / CXC / SAO

How do stars explode? Astronomers hope they’re a step closer to answering one of the universe's enduring mysteries, thanks to first-of-its-kind X-ray mapping by NASA’s NuSTAR telescope of remnants of a supernova.

The space-based telescope mapped out radioactive material in the leftovers of a dead star named Cassiopeia A (Cas A). The resulting images reveal how shock waves likely rip apart massive dying stars.

"Stars are spherical balls of gas, and so you might think that when they end their lives and explode, that explosion would look like a uniform ball expanding out with great power," said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "Our new results show how the explosion's heart, or engine, is distorted, possibly because the inner regions literally slosh around before detonating."

Harrison is a co-author of a paper about the results appearing in the Feb. 20 issue of Nature.

You can read more about the results at the NuStar website.

— NBC News