Chandra X-ray Observatory
has captured a rare glimpse of one of the most violent events
in nature the self-destruction of a mega-star. Chandra's
newest image gives astrophysicists a better understanding of the
dynamics of the explosion, and clues to the behavior of the doomed
star in the years before her sad denouement.
A had been a star for as long as anyone can remember a bright
light in our firmament," eulogized astronomer Hubert Dinglebottom.
career reflected the troubled times in which she lived. After
joining the fusion group NGC666 when still just a protostar in
1,435,129,827 BC, Cass had long been the most prominent star in
the group, composing many of their early hits such as "We Look
Like a Figure from Greek Mythology" and the cult classic, "Don't
Give Me No Hand-Me-Down Helium."
first caught the eye of astro-promoter Jim Smith in the early
1980's, when blue-white giants were all the rage in the London
astrophysical scene. He propelled the group to the zenith of their
success, pushing them to the top of The International Astrophysical
Society's "Top 100 Extraterrestrial Objects" charts, and garnering
them airplay on radio telescopes around the world.
the early 1990's, Cass was falling deeper into chemical excesses.
"She was burning through hydrogen like there was no tomorrow,"
said group member Cassiopeia B. An arrest and conviction in late
1996 prompted doubts about her availability for NGC666's Northern
Hemisphere tour. In the succeeding months she contributed less
and less to the star cluster's brilliance. She became increasingly
jealous of Cassiopeia C's leading role in the group. Cassiopeia
F's wooing and capturing of Cass' fourth planet merely increased
the tension. To make matters worse, industry rag Sky and Telescope
published photographs of her in the gravitational embrace of an
underage white dwarf. Events reached a crisis point in June 1997
when Cass officially left the cluster.
Cass left, the tug of the black hole of depression into which
she was spiraling only strengthened. Her health continued to give
her problems, as she was suffering from both severe sunspots and
cirrhosis of the corona. Her mental health also deteriorated:
"Sure, some stars can become temporarily unstable and pulsate
as RR Lyrae variables. But Cass, she was just off the wall all
the time," astronomer Hal Lightfoot told us.
also made a series of bad career moves. She had begun moonlighting
always a horrible idea for a star and her regular work was
suffering. Comments one wag, "Due to her failing health, her solar
wind had become damn near unbearable."
had a brief flirtation with the heavy metal scene around this
period. "She had begun hanging around with a bunch of gas giants,"
says British astro-critic John Feldergast. "Orbiting her like
the sun shone from her ass, they were."
this point, Cass was composed almost entirely of degenerate matter
just a rapidly-spinning, compressed remnant of a former star.
Finally, her tired, burned-out body exploded. The official cause
of death was hydrogen exhaustion, but friends say that Cass had
just had it with stardom.