Supernova Remnants

Why are they interesting?

When stars explode they release a tremendous amount of energy that can outshine an entire galaxy and can be visible from Earth for several weeks. This explosion creates progressively heavier elements that enrich the universe and form foundation for life. Amazingly, the iron in your body came from a supernova. The different colors you see in images of supernova remnants (SNRs) indicate different elements, such as oxygen, sulfur, and hydrogen, which are often lit up by a rapidly spinning object known as a neutron star.

By analyzing the chemical "fingerprint" of the light emitted from these atoms, we can determine their abundance, as well as the density and temperature of the clouds containing them. The environment of a SNR is quite harsh, with highly energetic particles whirling about due to intense magnetic fields, and how complex molecules manage to survive in this environment remains an unsolved problem. Below, I've outlined a few of the broader questions that our group is interested in investigating.

Questions to Answer

  • What conditions are necessary to make carbon monoxide strongly emit light in SNRs?
  • What role to magnetic fields play in emission we see from SNRs?
  • In what ionization state is most of the gas in SNRs of various ages?