The Debris Cloud From a Supernova Shows an Imprint of the Actual Explosion

Computer models are continuing to play an increasing role in scientific discovery.  Everything from the first moments after the Big Bang to potential for life to form on other planets has been the target of some sort of computer model.  Now scientists from the RIKEN Astrophysical Big Bang Laboratory are turning this almost ubiquitous tool to a very violent event – Type Ia supernovae.  Their work has now resulted in a more nuanced understanding of the effects of these important events.

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An All-Sky X-Ray Survey Finds the Biggest Supernova Remnant Ever Seen

Our sky is missing supernovas. Stars live for millions or billions of years. But given the sheer number of stars in the Milky Way, we should still expect these cataclysmic stellar deaths every 30-50 years. Few of those explosions will be within naked-eye-range of Earth. Nova is from the Latin meaning “new”. Over the last 2000 years, humans have seen about seven “new” stars appear in the sky – some bright enough to be seen during the day – until they faded after the initial explosion. While we haven’t seen a new star appear in the sky for over 400 years, we can see the aftermath with telescopes – supernova remnants (SNRs) – the hot expanding gases of stellar explosions. SNRs are visible up to a 150,000 years before fading into the Galaxy. So, doing the math, there should be about 1200 visible SNRs in our sky but we’ve only managed to find about 300. That was until “Hoinga” was recently discovered. Named after the hometown of first author Scientist Werner Becker, whose research team found the SNR using the eROSITA All-Sky X-ray survey, Hoinga is one of the largest SNRs ever seen.

Composite of the X-ray (pink) and radio (blue) image of Hoinga. The X-rays discovered by eROSITA are emitted by the hot debris of the exploded progenitor star. Radio antennae on Earth detect radiation emission from electrons in the outer shell of the supernova
Credit: eROSITA/MPE (X-ray), CHIPASS/SPASS/N. Hurley-Walker, ICRAR-Curtin (Radio)
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A New Supernova Remnant Found from an Exploding White Dwarf Star

Astronomers have spotted the remnant of a rare type of supernova explosion. It’s called a Type Iax supernova, and it’s the result of an exploding white dwarf. These are relatively rare supernovae, and astronomers think they’re responsible for creating many heavy elements.

They’ve found them in other galaxies before, but this is the first time they’ve spotted one in the Milky Way.

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Hubble’s Photo of the Cygnus Loop is, Of Course, Incredible

If you’re a Star Trek fan, you may think the above image portrays the “Nexus” from the movie Star Trek: Generations. In the film, the Nexus was a ribbon-like extra-dimensional realm that exists outside of normal space-time.

But this is actually a real image from the venerable Hubble Space Telescope, of the Cygnus Loop. This stunning picture from space shows just a small portion of a blast wave left over from a supernova that took place, from our vantage point, in the northern constellation Cygnus the Swan.  

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Astronomers Think They’ve Found the Neutron Star Remnant From Supernova 1987a

In 1987, astronomers witnessed a spectacular event when they spotted a titanic supernova 168,000 light-years away in the Hydra constellation. Designated 1987A (since it was the first supernova detected that year), the explosion was one of the brightest supernova seen from Earth in more than 400 years. The last time was Kepler’s Supernova, which was visible to Earth-bound observers back in 1604 (hence the designation SN 1604).

Since then, astronomers have tried in vain to find the company object they believed to be at the heart of the nebula that resulted from the explosion. Thanks to recent observations and a follow-up study by two international teams of astronomers, new evidence has been provided that support the theory that there is a neutron star at the heart of SN 1604 – which would make it the youngest neutron star known to date.

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One of the Largest Astronomical Images Ever Made

The northern portion of the Cygnus Loop, as seen in an enormous new panorama from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and WIYN partners

Looking for a stunning new desktop image to wrap up the year? Try this: it’s an amazing panorama of the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant located 1,500 light-years away in the constellation (you guessed it) Cygnus. The full-size image, acquired with the wide-field Mosaic camera on the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak, Arizona, is a staggering 600 million pixels in size — over 1.68 gigabytes — making it one of the largest astronomical images ever made!

See the full image (and links to download larger versions) below:

2000-pixel-wide version of the full Cygnus Loop panorama

The entire structure of the Cygnus Loop, the gaseous remains of a supernova that occurred 5,000 – 10,000 years ago, covers an area nearly 45 times the size of the full Moon in the sky.

In the image, hydrogen alpha, sulphur, and oxygen ions correspond to the red, green, and blue color values, respectively.

“Images like this are amazing because they can remind you of the big picture and beauty that surrounds us.”

–  Dr. Richard Cool, MMT Observatory

From the NOAO press release:

Astronomers estimate the supernova explosion that produced the nebula occurred between 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. First noted in 1784 by William Herschel, it is so large that its many parts have been catalogued as separate objects, including NGC 6992, NGC 6995 and IC 1340 along the eastern (left) side of the image, NGC 6974 and NGC 6979 near the top-center, and the Veil Nebula (NGC 6960) and Pickering’s Triangle along the western (right) edge. The bright star near the western edge of the image, known as 52 Cygnus, is not associated with the supernova.

“Often, astronomical research reduces images to dry tables of numerical information that we analyze in order to more deeply understand our universe,” said Dr. Richard Cool, astronomer at the MMT Observatory in Arizona, who originally obtained the images in 2003 while still a graduate student. “Images like this are amazing because they can remind you of the big picture and beauty that surrounds us.”

This incredible image demonstrates that even relatively small telescopes are capable of producing cutting-edge research, when equipped with modern cameras.

Got bandwidth to spare? Download the full-size 1686.5 MB TIFF image here, or find other versions on the NOAO page here.

Image Credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Richard Cool (University of Arizona) and WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF. Inset image: original dome of the Kitt Peak 0.9-meter telescope. (NOAO/AURA/NSF)