The Mystery of Supernova Explosions

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CXC/SAO

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CXC/SAO

One of the biggest mysteries in astronomy, how stars blow up in supernova explosions, is unraveling thanks to new data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. In this image of Cassiopeia A, NuSTAR data, which show high-energy X-rays from radioactive material, are colored blue. Lower-energy X-rays from non-radioactive material are shown in red, yellow and green. Cassiopeia A is the remains of a star that blew up in a supernova event whose light reached Earth about 350 years ago, when it could have appeared to observers as a star that suddenly brightened. The remnant is located 11,000 light-years away from Earth.

When massive star explode, they create many elements: non-radioactive ones like iron and calcium found in your blood and bones; and radioactive elements like titanium-44, the decay of which sends out high-energy X-ray light that NuSTAR can see. By mapping titanium-44 in Cassiopeia A, astronomers get a direct look at what happened in the core of the star when it was blasted to smithereens. The fact that the titanium — which is a direct tracer of the supernova blast — is concentrated in clumps at the core supports a theory referred to as “mild asymmetries.” In this scenario, material sloshes about at the heart of the supernova, reinvigorating a shock wave and allowing it to blow out the star’s outer layers.

NASA


One Comment on “The Mystery of Supernova Explosions”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet One of the biggest mysteries in astronomy, how stars blow up in supernova explosions, is unraveling […]


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