What elements are inside a supernova?

December 15, 2017, 8:21 a.m.
Supernova Cassiopeia A

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory recently captured images of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, which shows where specific elements are located within the supernova. The elements were previously unknown because they were undetectable with other telescopes. The intensely high temperatures of a supernova mean its contents can only be seen through X-ray.

Components of supernova Cassiopeia AEach color of Cassiopeia A as seen above represents a different component, with oxygen being the most prevalent. Cassiopeia A ejects 1 million Earth masses worth of oxygen into space, according to NASA. Although oxygen is the most prominent element, it can't be detected in X-ray because it's so widespread.

NASA also discovered other carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and hydrogen within Cassiopeia A by using telescopes to study other areas of the electromagnetic spectrum.

"Astronomers estimate that the doomed star was about five times the mass of the sun just before it exploded," NASA said in a statement. "The star is estimated to have started its life with a mass about 16 times that of the Sun, and lost roughly two-thirds of this mass in a vigorous wind blowing off the star several hundred thousand years before the explosion.


Inset photo: These five elements (not including oxygen) comprise the supernova Cassiopeia A. (Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO)