By combining observations from over 15 years with the Chandra X-ray Observatory and 30 years with the Very Large Array, scientists have been able to learn new things about Tycho's supernova remnant and the explosion that created it. 
NASA/CXC/GSFC/B.Williams et al; Optical: DSS

Week in Geek - GIFs in SPAAAACE edition

NASA just released an amazing GIF showing the evolution of this supernova remnant over the past fifteen years.

Looking out into space is looking back in time, but we’ve been looking out into space from Earth for millennia now, so it makes sense that we might see some things change. That’s exactly what is currently happening with Tycho’s supernova. Tycho Brahe was a Danish astronomer who spend years charting the stars overhead and tracking their motions.

Star map of the constellation Cassiopeia showing the supernova of 1572. From De Nova Stella by Tycho Brahe
Star map of the constellation Cassiopeia showing the supernova of 1572. From De Nova Stella by Tycho Brahe
Tychonis Brahe Dani, die XXIV Octobris A.D. MDCI defuncti, operum primitias De nova stella

In 1572, he observed a new star in the constellation of Cassiopeia that he hadn’t seen before. It stayed visible in the night sky for almost two years and in the beginning it was said to have been as bright as Venus. Tycho studied the star night after night and eventually published his observations and dubbed it “de nova stella”, meaning ” new star”.

We now know this star to be a supernova, called SN1572 and more commonly known as Tycho’s supernova, that occurred roughly 8,000 light years away from us. What’s left now is a remnant of the original explosion which astronomers on Earth have been observing for centuries. In the last few decades, we’ve added observations at X-ray wavelengths with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make the composite image shown above. Even more spectacular though, is this GIF which shows how SN1572 has evolved over the past fifteen years.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/B. Williams et al; Optical: DSS; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA


Analyzing how the remnant is changing over time has allowed astronomers to estimate the maximum speed of the blast wave at 12 million miles per hour! They were also able to determine that the center of outward motion is offset from the geometric center of the remnant by roughly 10% of the remnant’s radius (offset up and to the left). These parameters are important for characterizing the supernova as stated in NASA’s press release:

“Understanding the location of the explosion center for Type Ia supernovas is important because it narrows the search region for a surviving companion star. Any surviving companion star would help identify the trigger mechanism for the supernova, showing that the white dwarf pulled material from the companion star until it reached a critical mass and exploded. The lack of a companion star would favor the other main trigger mechanism, where two white dwarfs merge causing the critical mass to be exceeded, leaving no star behind.”

Here’s some more geek from the week:

Keep on geeking!

@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist


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Week in Geek - GIFs in SPAAAACE edition