X-ray astronomy is only 50 years old but nothing shows the progress of the technology like a new view of a supernova scientists watched over a thousand years ago.
SN 1006 got its name because it first appeared visible to us on May 1, 1006 A.D. in the constellation Lupus (the Wolf), which is south of Scorpio.Though about 7,000 light years away from Earth, it was far brighter than Venus and visible during the daytime for weeks, so astronomers from Asia, Europe and the Arab world all documented this spectacular sight. Astronomers now believe it was a merging of two white dwarf stars.
Then it gradually faded from view. Finally, in the 1960s, engineers were able to launch instruments and detectors above Earth's atmosphere to observe the Universe in wavelengths that are blocked from the ground, including X-rays, and SN 1006 was rediscovered, one of the faintest X-ray sources detected by that first generation of X-ray satellites.
A new image of SN 1006 from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory overlaps 10 different pointings of Chandra's field-of-view, allowing astronomers to stitch together a cosmic tapestry of the debris field that was created when a white dwarf star exploded, sending its material hurtling into space. In this new Chandra image, low, medium, and higher-energy X-rays are colored red, green, and blue respectively.
The new Chandra image provides new insight into the nature of SN1006, which is the remnant of a so-called Type Ia supernova. This class of supernova is caused when a white dwarf pulls too much mass from a companion star and explodes, or when two white dwarfs merge and explode. Astronomers use observations of these explosions in distant galaxies as mileposts to mark the expansion of the Universe.
The new SN 1006 image represents the most spatially detailed map yet of the material ejected during a Type Ia supernova. By examining the different elements in the debris field - such as silicon, oxygen, and magnesium - the researchers may be able to piece together how the star looked before it exploded and the order that the layers of the star were ejected, and constrain theoretical models for the explosion.
Scientists are also able to study just how fast specific knots of material are moving away from the original explosion. The fastest knots are moving outward at almost eleven million miles per hour, while those in other areas are moving at a more leisurely seven million miles per hour. SN 1006 is located about 7,000 light years from Earth. The new Chandra image of SN 1006 contains over 8 days worth of observing time by the telescope. These results were presented at a meeting of High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society in Monterey, CA.
This work involved Frank Winkler, from Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT; Satoru Katsuda from The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) in Saitama, Japan; Knox Long from Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD; Robert Petre from NASA -Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD; Stephen Reynolds from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC; and Brian Williams from NASA -GSFC in Greenbelt, MD.