Galaxies are littered with supernova remnants: expanding clouds of material blasted out during the explosions of massive stars. These remnants are complex: full of strong magnetic fields, high-temperature collisions between particles, and flows of material into interstellar space. The clouds are rich environments that provide raw materials for future star formation, as well as laboratories for studying extreme astrophysics. For that reason, the Chandra Supernova Remnant Catalog collects the available observational data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory about supernova remnants in the Milky Way and our neighboring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. The catalog is managed by astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, and includes information about the remnants’ shapes and X-ray spectra, along with corresponding radio observations for some specimens.
Cassiopeia A. A supernova remnant about 11,000 light from Earth.
Cataloging the Stellar Graveyard
Supernovas are among the brightest phenomena in the universe, briefly outshining whole galaxies before they fade. The relatively short duration of these explosions means the best information about them frequently comes from their remnants, which are among the brightest sources of X-rays and gamma rays in the sky.
For that reason, astronomers have used the Chandra X-ray telescope to observe supernova remnants in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies. The Chandra Supernova Remnant Catalog is designed to bring the data from all the remnants observed using Chandra into a single place for comparison purposes. The catalog includes the spectrum of X-ray emission and the remnant morphology, which reveals the patterns of matter emitting the light within the clouds. The morphology of the remnants in turn provides important clues to the original supernova explosions, information that is difficult to obtain other ways.