Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Action Replay of Powerful Stellar Explosion

Astronomers have made the best ever determination of the power of a supernova explosion that was visible from Earth long ago. By observing the remnant of a supernova and a light echo from the initial outburst, they have established the validity of a powerful new method for studying supernovas.

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Gemini Observatory, two teams of researchers studied the supernova remnant and the supernova light echo that are located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small galaxy about 160,000 light years from Earth. They concluded that the supernova occurred about 400 years ago (in Earth’s time frame), and was unusually bright and energetic.

X-ray Image of SNR 0509-67.5This result is the first time two methods - X-ray observations of a supernova remnant and optical observations of the expanding light echoes from the explosion - have both been used to estimate the energy of a supernova explosion. Up until now, scientists had only made such an estimate using the light seen soon after a star exploded, or using remnants that are several hundred years old, but not from both.

"People didn't have advanced telescopes to study supernovas when they went off hundreds of years ago," said Armin Rest of Harvard University, who led the light echo observations using Gemini. "But we've done the next best thing by looking around the site of the explosion and constructing an action replay of it."

In 2004, scientists used Chandra to determine that a supernova remnant, known as SNR 0509-67.5 in the LMC, was a so-called Type Ia supernova, caused by a white dwarf star in a binary system that reaches a critical mass and explodes.

In the new optical study, an estimate of the explosion's energy came from studying an echo of the original light of the explosion. Just as sound bounces off walls of a canyon, so too can light waves create an echo by bouncing off dust clouds in space. The light from these echoes travels a longer path than the light that travels straight toward us, and so can be seen hundreds of years after the supernova itself.

Illustrations of Light Echoes and a Supernova RemnantFirst seen by the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, the light echoes were observed in greater detail by Gemini Observatory in Chile. The optical spectra of the light echo were used to confirm that the supernova was a Type Ia and to unambiguously determine the particular class of explosion and therefore its energy.

The Chandra data, along with XMM data obtained in 2000, were then independently used to calculate the amount of energy involved in the original explosion, using an analysis of the supernova remnant and state-of-the-art explosion models. Their conclusion confirmed the results from the optical data, namely that the explosion was an especially energetic and bright variety of Type Ia supernova. This agreement provides strong evidence that the detailed explosion models are accurate.

"Having these two methods agree lets us breathe a sigh of relief," said Carlos Badenes of Princeton University who led the Chandra and XMM study. "It looks like we're on the right track with trying to understand these big explosions. Their stellar debris really can retain a memory of what created them hundreds of years earlier."

Optical Panoramic Image of LMCBoth methods estimated a similar time since the explosion of about 400 years. An extra constraint on the age comes from the lack of recorded historical evidence for a recent supernova in the LMC. Because this star appears in the Southern Hemisphere, it likely would have been seen by navigators who noted similarly bright celestial events if it had occurred less than about 400 years ago.

Because Type Ia supernovas have nearly uniform intrinsic brightness, they are used as important tools by scientists to study the expansion of the universe and the nature of dark energy.

"It's crucial to know that the basic assumptions about these explosions are correct, so they're not used just as black-boxes to measure distances," said Badenes.

This work is also being extended to other supernova remnants and light echoes.

"This is the first case where the conclusions that are drawn from the supernova remnant about the original explosion can be directly tested by looking at the original event itself," said Rest. "We'll be able to learn a lot about supernovas in our own galaxy by using this technique."

These results appear in two recently accepted papers in The Astrophysical Journal. The first discusses the spectrum obtained by Gemini, led by Rest. The second, with Badenes as first author, details the Chandra and XMM observations of SNR 0509-67.5. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Media contacts:
Jennifer Morcone
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Megan Watzke
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

Megan Watzke | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons
20.03.2018 | ITMO University

nachricht Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions
20.03.2018 | University of California - Berkeley

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected

20.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>