Star graveyard revealed in super-clear image of the Milky Way

Star graveyard revealed in super-clear image of the Milky Way 19.01.2023

Detailed radio observations turn up previously unseen remnants of dying stars in the Galaxy.

Astronomers have discovered the remains of nearly two dozen exploding stars in the Milky Way, thanks to detailed radio observations that could unveil many more such events in the Galaxy.

A star in the Milky Way is expected to explode as a supernova roughly at least once every 100 years. These violent explosions — the dramatic final throes of massive stars as they exhaust their fuel — can eject vast clouds of dust and gas to locations many light years from the star. Such ‘supernova remnants’ can persist for thousands of years before dissipating. Studying these remnants can reveal useful information about the Galaxy, because they often contain heavy elements that give rise to other stars, planets and even life itself.

Hundreds of such remnants have been found across the Milky Way, but astronomers think that they have observed only about one-fifth of the total number. Most are found by detecting radio emissions from the remnants as they expand, revealing their otherwise invisible shapes, but many are too faint to be picked up. “There’s this missing supernova-remnant problem,” says Brianna Ball, who studies astronomy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. “We know how many we should see, and we see a lot fewer than that.”

On 16 January, however, a project led by Ball revealed a new way to track supernova remnants down. It combined the observing power of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), a radio telescope comprising 36 antennas in Western Australia, with that of the Parkes Observatory, a single dish in New South Wales, Australia, to detect previously unseen supernova remnants in a patch of night sky.

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