Space

August 15, 2014

NASA’s Chandra Observatory searches for trigger of nearby supernova

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is helping determine what caused SN 2014J, one of the closest supernovas discovered in decades. By comparing X-ray data taken before and after the stellar explosion, scientists can learn more about what set it off.

 
New data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory offer a glimpse into the environment of a star before it exploded earlier this year, and insight into what triggered one of the closest supernovas witnessed in decades.

The data gathered on the Jan. 21 explosion, a Type Ia supernova, allowed scientists to rule out one possible cause. These supernovas may be triggered when a white dwarf takes on too much mass from its companion star, immersing it in a cloud of gas that produces a significant source of X-rays after the explosion.

Astronomers used NASA’s Swift and Chandra telescopes to search the nearby Messier 82 galaxy, the location of the explosion, for such an X-ray source. However, no source was found, revealing the region around the site of the supernova is relatively devoid of material.

“While it may sound a bit odd, we actually learned a great deal about this supernova by detecting absolutely nothing,” said Raffaella Margutti of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who led the study. “Now we can essentially rule out that the explosion was caused by a white dwarf continuously pulling material from a companion star.”

This supernova, SN 2014J, could instead have been caused by the merger of two white dwarf stars, an event that should result in little or no X-rays after the explosion. Further observations could rule out or confirm other possible triggers.

“Being able to eliminate one of the main possible explanations for what caused SN 2014J to explode is a big step,” said CfA’s Atish Kamble, a co-author of the study. “The next step is to narrow things down even further.”

Type Ia supernovas are used as cosmic distance-markers, and have played a key role in the discovery of the universe’s accelerated expansion. At about 12 million light-years from Earth, SN 2014J and its host galaxy are close — from a cosmic perspective. This offers scientists a chance to observe details that would be too hard to detect in more distant supernovas.

“It’s crucial that we understand exactly how these stars explode because so much is riding on our observations of them for cosmology,” said co-author Jerod Parrent also from CfA. “SN 2014J might be a chance of a lifetime to study one of these supernovas in detail as it happens.”

The study of SN 2014J is similar to a study led by Margutti about another supernova, SN 2011fe, in the nearby galaxy M101.

This study was conducted by CfA’s Supernova Forensics Team, led by Alicia Soderberg. The results were published online and in the July 20 print issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Navy photograph

NAWCWD manned for unmanned systems

Navy photograph A rail launch is performed during Integrator unmanned aerial vehicle testing at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake, Calif. Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division scientists, engineers, techn...
 
 
NASA photograph by Ken Ulbrich

NASA employees go ‘above and beyond’

Courtesy photograph NASA Chief Scientist Albion Bowers, Christopher Miller and Nelson Brown receive the Exception Engineering Achievement Medal at Armstrong Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The prestigious award ...
 
 
Photograph by Tom Reynolds

Engineers, test pilots enjoy Mojave tradition

Photograph by Tom Reynolds Engineer and pilot students who recently graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School from Patuxent River, Md., and the USAF Test Pilot school at Edwards AFB kept with a 17 year old tradition, enjo...
 

 
nasa-global-hawk

Global Hawk 872 return marks 100th NASA flight

  NASA Global Hawk No. 872 is pictured on the ramp after landing at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Va., at sunrise following its 10th and final science flight Sept. 28–29 in the agency’s 2014 Hurricane and S...
 
 

Northrop Grumman hand held precision targeting device completes successful developmental test

A new hand held targeting system developed by Northrop Grumman that will enable soldiers to engage targets with precision munitions while providing digital connectivity to related military units has successfully completed developmental testing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The evaluation of the company’s Hand Held Precision Targeting Device, or HHPTD, was conducted...
 
 
Photograph by Linda KC Reynolds

Educating future workers

Photograph by Linda KC Reynolds Antelope Valley College physics professor Christos Valiotis and assistant headmaster at the Palmdale Aerospace Academy, Matthew Winheim, speak at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade Luncheon. The ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>