Fixed Pace | by Brian Koberlein



28 August 2020

The supernova remnant SN 1604, as viewed by the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas at Arlington/M. Millard et al
The supernova remnant SN 1604, as seen by the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

4 centuries in the past, Johannes Kepler noticed a vibrant new star within the night time sky. Astronomers from all around the world seen it, but it surely got here to be generally known as Kepler’s star. It was brought on by a stellar explosion 20,000 light-years from Earth, and it was the newest naked-eye supernova to seem in our galaxy.

We now know Kepler’s star was a Sort Ia supernova. It’s the kind of supernova we use to measure galactic distances. We now see it as a supernova remnant generally known as SN 1604, a cloud of increasing gasoline and mud forged out by the explosion.

Kepler's illustration of the supernova, indicated by *N*.
Kepler/De Stella Nova
Kepler’s illustration of the supernova, indicated by N.

As a result of it’s comparatively shut, and astronomers noticed it happen, SN 1604 is without doubt one of the most generally studied supernova remnants. Fashionable area telescopes such because the Chandra X-ray observatory have noticed the remnant for twenty years. It’s given us a deeper understanding of how remnants evolve. And the outcomes are nonetheless shocking.

Not too long ago, a examine checked out how ejected materials’s velocity strikes over time, and it seems to be extremely quick. On this examine, the crew tracked the velocity of greater than a dozen “knots” or clumps of particles throughout the supernova remnant. The quickest of those knots is shifting at greater than 10,000 kilometers per second. The typical velocity of the knots is sort of 5,000 kilometers per second. These speeds are akin to speeds seen in extra-galactic supernovae instantly after they happen. It implies that even after 4 centuries, the remnant particles hasn’t slowed down.

This continued excessive velocity is probably going as a result of the explosion’s shockwave clears a lot of the interstellar gasoline from the area. It additionally implies that supernovae are extremely environment friendly at seeding the Universe with new materials. The Solar, Earth, and people are all merchandise of remnant gasoline and mud.

Artist's rendition of two white dwarfs colliding.
College of Warwick/Mark Garlick
Artist’s rendition of two white dwarfs colliding.

The examine additionally provides us some clues about how Sort Ia supernovae happen. One widespread thought is that they occur when a white dwarf and crimson large star are in a detailed binary orbit. Materials from the crimson dwarf is captured by the white dwarf, inflicting the star to break down and explode when its mass crosses the Chandrasekhar restrict. This examine discovered proof of a star throughout the remnant, and the movement of the knots isn’t spherically symmetric. This implies that the supernova was brought on by the collision of two white dwarfs as a substitute.

It’s been 400 years because the final comparatively shut supernova, which is an unusually very long time. There needs to be a supernova in our galaxy about each 50 years. However happily, SN 1604 nonetheless has loads to show us till the subsequent close by supernova happens.

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