Chandra X-ray Image of Tychos Supernova Remnant. Credit: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Warren & J.Hughes et al.
Astronomers have found compelling evidence that a supernova shock wave has produced a large amount of cosmic rays, particles of mysterious origin that constantly bombard the Earth. This discovery, made with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, supports theoretical arguments that shock waves from stellar explosions may be a primary source of cosmic rays.
This finding is important for understanding the origin of cosmic rays, which are atomic nuclei that strike the Earth’s atmosphere with very high energies. Scientists believe that some are produced by flares on the Sun, and others by similar events on other stars, or pulsars or black hole accretion disks. But, one of the prime suspects has been supernova shock waves. Now, a team of astronomers has used Chandra observations of Tycho’s supernova remnant to strengthen the case for this explanation.
"With only a single object involved we can’t state with confidence that supernova shock waves are the primary source of cosmic rays," said John P. Hughes of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, and coauthor of a report to be published in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "What we have done is present solid evidence that the shock wave in at least one supernova remnant has accelerated nuclei to cosmic ray energies."
In the year 1572, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe observed and studied the sudden appearance of a bright "new star" in the constellation Cassiopeia. Now known as Tycho’s supernova remnant, the event created a sensation in Tycho’s time because it exploded the myth that stars never change.
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