Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA's Swift Narrows Down Origin of Important Supernova Class

21.03.2012
Studies using X-ray and ultraviolet observations from NASA's Swift satellite provide new insights into the elusive origins of an important class of exploding star called Type Ia supernovae.

These explosions, which can outshine their galaxy for weeks, release large and consistent amounts of energy at visible wavelengths. These qualities make them among the most valuable tools for measuring distance in the universe. Because astronomers know the intrinsic brightness of Type Ia supernovae, how bright they appear directly reveals how far away they are.


Three types of systems, illustrated here, may host Type Ia supernovae. The first two panels depict a white dwarf in a binary system accumulating matter transferred from a red supergiant companion many times the sun's mass (left) or similar to the sun (middle). The transferred matter is thought to accumulate on the white dwarf and ultimately cause it to explode. Swift data on dozens of supernovae essentially eliminate the first model. Mounting evidence suggests that some Type Ia supernovae occur when binary white dwarfs (right) merge and collide. Credit: NASA/Swift/ Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State Univ.

"For all their importance, it's a bit embarrassing for astronomers that we don't know fundamental facts about the environs of these supernovae," said Stefan Immler, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Now, thanks to unprecedented X-ray and ultraviolet data from Swift, we have a clearer picture of what's required to blow up these stars."

Astronomers have known for decades that Type Ia supernovae originate with a remnant star called a white dwarf, which detonates when pushed to a critical mass. The environment that sets the stage for the explosion, however, has been harder to pin down.

According to the most popular scenario, a white dwarf orbits a normal star and pulls a stream of matter from it. This gas flows onto the white dwarf, which gains mass until it reaches a critical threshold and undergoes a catastrophic explosion.

"A missing detail is what types of stars reside in these systems. They may be a mix of stars like the sun or much more massive red- and blue-supergiant stars," said Brock Russell, a physics graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, and lead author of the X-ray study.

In a competing model, the supernova arises when two white dwarfs in a binary system eventually spiral inward and collide. Observations suggest both scenarios occur in nature, but no one knows which version happens more often.

Swift's primary mission is to locate gamma-ray bursts, which are more distant and energetic explosions associated with the birth of black holes. Between these bursts, astronomers can use Swift's unique capabilities to study other objects, including newly discovered supernovae. The satellite's X-ray Telescope (XRT) has studied more than 200 supernovae to date, with about 30 percent being Type Ia.

Russell and Immler combined X-ray data for 53 of the nearest known Type Ia supernovae but could not detect an X-ray point source. Stars shed gas and dust throughout their lives. When a supernova shock wave plows into this material, it becomes heated and emits X-rays. The lack of X-rays from the combined supernovae shows that supergiant stars, and even sun-like stars in a later red giant phase, likely aren't present in the host binaries.

In a companion study, a team led by Peter Brown at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City looked at 12 Type Ia events observed by Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) less than 10 days after the explosion. A supernova shock wave should produce enhanced ultraviolet light as it interacts with its companion, with larger stars producing brighter, longer enhancements. Swift's UVOT detected no such emission, leading the researchers to exclude large, red giant stars from Type Ia binaries.

Taken together, the studies suggest the companion to the white dwarf is either a smaller, younger star similar to our sun or another white dwarf. The X-ray findings will appear in the April 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters; the ultraviolet results appear in the April 10 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

The ultraviolet studies rely on early, sensitive observations. As Brown's study was being written, nature provided a great case study in SN 2011fe, the closest Type Ia supernova since 1986. Early Swift UVOT observations show no ultraviolet enhancement. According to the findings in an unpublished study led also by Brown, this means any companion must be smaller than the sun.

Swift data on SN 2011fe also figure prominently in unpublished studies led by Alicia Soderberg at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. Preliminary results suggest that the explosion was caused by merging white dwarfs.

Swift launched in November 2004 and is managed by Goddard. It is operated in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University and other national and international partners.

Francis Reddy
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Francis Reddy | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/supernova-narrowing.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Magnetic micro-boats
21.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung

nachricht Levitating objects with light
19.03.2019 | 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: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

Im Focus: Revealing the secret of the vacuum for the first time

New research group at the University of Jena combines theory and experiment to demonstrate for the first time certain physical processes in a quantum vacuum

For most people, a vacuum is an empty space. Quantum physics, on the other hand, assumes that even in this lowest-energy state, particles and antiparticles...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

To proliferate or not to proliferate

21.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Magnetic micro-boats

21.03.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Motorless pumps and self-regulating valves made from ultrathin film

21.03.2019 | HANNOVER MESSE

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>