Multi-spectral view of stellar nursery reveals spectacular interplay of stellar winds and supernova shocks

Combining optical, X-ray and infrared views of a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud provides a spectacular look at the effects of high-speed winds blown away from massive, fast-burning stars that die young in fiery supernova blasts. At the centre of this region, known as LHA 120-N44, the star cluster NGC 1929 shines with the light of massive stars that produce intense radiation and stellar winds. Data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, shown in blue, reveal high-temperature regions where winds and supernova shock waves have created huge cavities. Infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, seen in red, show where dust and cooler gas is present. Visible light from the European Southern Observatory’s MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope in Chile reveal the stars themselves and the clouds of gas and dust that surround them. The multi-spectral view led astronomers to a better understanding of why superbubbles like N44 give off powerful X-rays. It appears that X-rays are generated by supernova shock waves hitting the walls of the cavities and by material evaporating from those cavity walls.

LHA 120-N44 in the Large Magellanic Cloud as imaged by ESO’s MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Image: Optical: ESO, X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Mich./S.Oey, IR: NASA/JPL