Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Asymmetric Ashes

01.12.2006
Astronomers Study Shape of Stellar Candles

Astronomers are reporting remarkable new findings that shed light on a decade-long debate about one kind of supernovae, the explosions that mark a star's final demise: does the star die in a slow burn or with a fast bang? From their observations, the scientists find that the matter ejected by the explosion shows significant peripheral asymmetry but a nearly spherical interior, most likely implying that the explosion finally propagates at supersonic speed.

These results are reported today in Science Express, the online version of the research journal Science, by Lifan Wang, Texas A&M University (USA), and colleagues Dietrich Baade and Ferdinando Patat from ESO.

"Our results strongly suggest a two-stage explosion process in this type of supernova," comments Wang. "This is an important finding with potential implications in cosmology."

Using observations of 17 supernovae made over more than 10 years with ESO's Very Large Telescope and the McDonald Observatory's Otto Struve Telescope, astronomers inferred the shape and structure of the debris cloud thrown out from Type Ia supernovae. Such supernovae are thought to be the result of the explosion of a small and dense star - a white dwarf - inside a binary system. As its companion continuously spills matter onto the white dwarf, the white dwarf reaches a critical mass, leading to a fatal instability and the supernova. But what sparks the initial explosion, and how the blast travels through the star have long been thorny issues.

The supernovae Wang and his colleagues observed occurred in distant galaxies, and because of the vast cosmic distances could not be studied in detail using conventional imaging techniques, including interferometry. Instead, the team determined the shape of the exploding cocoons by recording the polarisation of the light from the dying stars.

Polarimetry relies on the fact that light is composed of electromagnetic waves that oscillate in certain directions. Reflection or scattering of light favours certain orientations of the electric and magnetic fields over others. This is why polarising sunglasses can filter out the glint of sunlight reflected off a pond. When light scatters through the expanding debris of a supernova, it retains information about the orientation of the scattering layers. If the supernova is spherically symmetric, all orientations will be present equally and will average out, so there will be no net polarisation. If, however, the gas shell is not round, a slight net polarisation will be imprinted on the light.

"This study was possible because polarimetry could unfold its full strength thanks to the light-collecting power of the Very Large Telescope and the very precise calibration of the FORS instrument," says Dietrich Baade.

"Our study reveals that explosions of Type Ia supernovae are really three-dimensional phenomena," he adds. "The outer regions of the blast cloud is asymmetric, with different materials found in 'clumps', while the inner regions are smooth."

The research team first spotted this asymmetry in 2003, as part of the same observational campaign (ESO PR 23/03 and ESO PR Photo 26/05). The new, more extensive results show that the degree of polarisation and, hence, the asphericity, correlates with the intrinsic brightness of the explosion. The brighter the supernova, the smoother, or less clumpy, it is.

"This has some impact on the use of Type Ia supernovae as standard candles," says Ferdinando Patat. "This kind of supernovae is used to measure the rate of acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, assuming these objects behave in a uniform way. But asymmetries can introduce dispersions in the quantities observed."

"Our discovery puts strong constraints on any successful models of thermonuclear supernova explosions," adds Wang.

Models have suggested that the clumpiness is caused by a slow-burn process, called 'deflagration', and leaves an irregular trail of ashes. The smoothness of the inner regions of the exploding star implies that at a given stage, the deflagration gives way to a more violent process, a 'detonation', which travels at supersonic speeds - so fast that it erases all the asymmetries in the ashes left behind by the slower burning of the first stage, resulting in a smoother, more homogeneous residue.

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New NASA study improves search for habitable worlds
20.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology

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: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>