Skip to main content

Analyzing Light: Supernova E0102

Examining an exploded star’s remains Full Story Below

A noisy chart shows number of photons at different energies A noisy chart shows number of photons at different energies
More photons are detected and new bumps become apparent
More photons show more detail, but lots of noise at edges
Chart becomes cleaner and easier to read
At least eight bumps are seen, even one in the noisy area
Photon numbers range from 100-10,000. There is little noise
Loading images...

To trace the movement of the million-degree gas ejected by a nearby supernova, telescopes need to spend many hours observing.

Astronomers took a series of X-ray images and spectra to determine what the supernova remnant is made of and how the gas moves.

After 10 hours, it is hard to determine if other parts of the spectra are a signal or random noise.

After 25 hours, two signatures of oxygen are clearly detected in the gas blasted out by the exploding star.

More elements—and how fast they are traveling—become clearer with longer observations.

Repeated observations built a precise data set that identifies the exploded star’s chemicals and measures how fast the gas moves.

2 Hours
5 Hours
10 Hours
25 Hours
50 Hours
77 Hours

Analyzing Light: Supernova E0102

Investigating the elements ejected by a supernova.

Light is packed with information! By using specialized instruments on telescopes, researchers can stretch light into a rainbow (known as a spectrum) to analyze its properties and learn about objects in the universe. When materials interact with or emit their own light, properties of that material are stamped on the light. This “stamp” is like a fingerprint for each element and molecule. By examining the intensity of light, or lack thereof, in each color, scientist can work backward to infer the properties of the material that left their stamp on the spectrum. The longer an object is observed, the more scientists can learn about the object. These data reveal important details about the makeup of atmospheres on exoplanets, the compositions of stars and nebulas, the motion of galaxies, and more.

Supernova E0102 is relatively young. Its light reached Earth a few thousand years ago, which on astronomical timescales is very recent. This object provides researchers the opportunity to study the material the exploded star sent out before it has interacted very much with the surrounding gas and dust. Analysis of Supernova E0102’s spectra gives astronomers new information about which elements are present, and which materials are moving away from or toward Earth. By studying the supernova remnant’s spectra over time, researchers are able to definitively determine which elements are present after a single star exploded, learn more about the supernova explosion itself, and collect clues about exactly what type of star exploded. The colors shown above in the charts and the images align: The lowest-energy X-rays are colored red, the intermediate range of X-rays is green, and the highest-energy X-rays detected are blue.

Quick Facts: Supernova E0102

Also known as: SN E0102-72.3 and SN010102-72

Distance from Earth: 190,000 light-years away in the Small Magellanic Cloud

Size: 43 light-years across

Type of object: Supernova remnant

Location in the sky: Tucana Constellation

Did you know: The Chandra X-ray Observatory uses E0102 to calibrate the telescope and has taken a picture of the object every year since 1999.

Explore More About Analyzing Light

Find out more with these additional resources from NASA’s Universe of Learning

ViewSpace ViewSpace Videos
Explore how spectroscopy reveals the hidden mysteries of the universe
NASA’s Universe of Learning NASA’s Universe of Learning
A spectrum is a rainbow, but not like any you’ve seen
AstroPix AstroPix
Learn how we analyze light to find the missing pieces of the universe

Credits: Supernova E0102

X-ray light images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory: NASA/CXC/MIT/D. Dewey et al. & NASA/CXC/SAO/J. DePasquale

X-ray spectra from the Chandra X-ray Observatory: NASA/CXC/SAO & R. Das

Content development by Claire Blome, Dr. Kelly Lepo, Yesenia Perez

Design by Zena Levy

Web development by Isaar Sadr, Lara Wilkinson

Subject-matter expertise provided by Dr. Neslihan Alan