Life and death in a star-forming cloud
W44 is the product of a massive star that has reached the end of its life, and all that remains of the stellar behemoth is the spinning core of a neutron star and a supernova remnant.
November 15, 2012
The aftershock of a stellar explosion rippling through space is captured in this new view of supernova remnant W44, which combines far-infrared and X-ray data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel and XMM-Newton space observatories.
Annotated image of W44 and surrounding area. //Credit: Herschel: Q. Nguyen Luong & F. Motte/HOBYS Key Program consortium/Herschel SPIRE/PACS/ESA consortia. XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton
W44, located around 10,000 light-years away within a forest of dense star-forming clouds in the constellation Aquila the Eagle, is one of the best examples of a supernova remnant interacting with its parent molecular cloud.
The product of a massive star that has already reached the end of its life and expelled its outer layers in a dramatic explosion, all that remains of the stellar behemoth is the spinning core of a neutron star, or pulsar.
Identified as PSR B1853+01, the pulsar is the bright point to the top left in W44, colored light blue in this image.
It is thought to be around 20,000 years old, and as it rapidly rotates, it sweeps out a wind of highly energetic particles and beams of light ranging from radio to X-ray energies.
The center of the supernova remnant is also bright in X-rays, coming from the hot gas that fills the shell, at temperatures of several million degrees. Dense knots of high-energy emission reflect regions where heavier elements are more commonly found.
At the cooler edge of the cavity, gas is swept up as the supernova remnant propagates through space.
At the top right of the expanding shell, there is a smaller cavity, with the shock from the supernova remnant impacting the bight arc-shaped feature. This region is filled with hot gas that has been ionized by the intense ultraviolet radiation from embedded massive young stars.
Herschel’s far-infrared eyes also can seek out regions of gently heated gas and dust farther from W44, where new stars are congregating. Examples include the arrowhead-shaped star-formation region to the right of W44, which appears to point to another trio of intricate clouds farther to the right and above.
More broadly, a number of compact objects scattered across the scene map the cold seeds of future stars that will eventually emerge from their dusty cocoons.
Finally, diffuse purple emission toward the bottom left of the image provides a glimpse of the galactic plane.