NASA Satellite Exposes Supernovae Origins

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array gives scientists a better view of supernovae origins.

ESA, satellite, supernova, X-ray, titanium, isotope, star, physics, telescopeIn a paper published in the February 2014 issue of Nature, NASA scientists have revealed new details concerning the explosions that destroy stars and create supernovae.

Using the 350 kg (771 lb) Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), researchers at CalTech have created the first map of radioactive remnants of a supernova explosion. Focusing on Cassiopeia A (Cas A) scientists employed the satellite’s telescoping grazing incident optics to survey the invisible material left over from the star’s detonation.

As the first satellite capable of imaging the decaying remains of a supernova, NuSTAR scanned the 10 light-years across Cas A nova for titanium-44, an isotope only created by the searing temperatures of a stellar explosion.

By scouring the high-energy X-Ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum NuSTAR revealed that the rare titanium isotope was clumped together near the center of the Cas A’s remnant cloud. With that information in hand researchers built a computer simulation of a supernova explosion and found that as a dying star begins to collapse a shock wave, which usually triggers the supernova explosion, sometimes stalls and prevents the star from “shattering”.    

 “Stars are spherical balls of gas, and so you might think that when they end their lives and explode, that explosion would look like a uniform ball expanding out with great power,” said Fiona Harrison, Caltech’s principle NuSTAR investigator. “Our new results show how the explosion’s heart, or engine, is distorted, possibly because the inner regions literally slosh around before detonating.”

While many mysteries still surround the origins of supernovae, researchers are pleased with their newfound understanding of one of the most powerful forces in the Universe. “This is why we built NuSTAR,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division in Washington, “To discover things we never knew – and did not expect – about the high-energy universe.”

Image and Video Courtesy of NASA