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Supernova in Motion

X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/B.Williams et al; Optical: DSS
X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/B.Williams et al; Optical: DSS
Astronomers have combined 15 years of X-ray observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and 30 years of radio observations from the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico to make the first ever movie of a supernova remnant. The original star, a white dwarf, exploded in 1572 in a Type Ia class supernova. The remnant has been named after astronomer Tycho Brahe, who was alive at the time and observed it extensively. Today, astronomers watch as the debris races outward, at speeds around 12 million miles per hour, and can learn much about the original explosion by how the field grows. The Tycho supernova is expanding much faster on the right and lower right areas than in the left and upper left. Tracing this backwards, astronomers now know that the explosion point was offset about 10 percent from the geometric center of the blast. This offset can help astronomers figure out if there was a companion star, one that sloughed off material to the white dwarf, which then exploded once it reached a critical mass. If there is no other star left behind, it likely means two white dwarfs merged and then exploded.

Heather Goss is the Departments Editor at Air & Space.

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