University of Alberta physics professor Craig Heinke has solved a mystery that lies 11,000 light years beyond Earth. A supernova (or exploding star), 20 times heavier than our sun blasted apart, leaving behind a small core that has puzzled astronomers since its discovery in 1999.
Heinke and a colleague have identified the 20 kilometre-wide remnant of the supernova as a neutron star. It's the youngest neutron star ever identified, and its atmosphere, a thin layer of carbon, is one of a kind. The supernova event that created the core happened just 330 years ago. Heinke describes the core as being in its infancy compared to the much older neutron stars scientists have studied. Because of this discovery, researchers now have access to the complete life cycle of a supernova, and will learn more about the role exploding stars play in the makeup of the universe. Most minerals found on Earth are the products of supernovae.
"This discovery helps us understand how neutron stars are born in violent supernova explosions," said Heinke. "This neutron star was born so hot that nuclear fusion happened on its surface, producing a carbon atmosphere just 10 centimeters thick." Heinke is co author of a research paper on the identification of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant as a neutron star.