Chandra observatory searches for trigger of nearby supernova

August 14, 2014
Credit  NASA/CXC/SAO/R.Margutti et al

(Phys.org) —New data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory offer a glimpse into the environment of a star before it exploded earlier this year, and insight into what triggered one of the closest supernovas witnessed in decades.

The data gathered on the Jan. 21 explosion, a Type Ia supernova, allowed scientists to rule out one possible cause. These supernovas may be triggered when a white dwarf takes on too much mass from its , immersing it in a cloud of gas that produces a significant source of X-rays after the explosion.

Astronomers used NASA's Swift and Chandra telescopes to search the nearby Messier 82 galaxy, the location of the explosion, for such an X-ray source. However, no source was found, revealing the region around the site of the supernova is relatively devoid of material.

"While it may sound a bit odd, we actually learned a great deal about this supernova by detecting absolutely nothing," said Raffaella Margutti of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study. "Now we can essentially rule out that the explosion was caused by a white dwarf continuously pulling material from a companion star."

This supernova, SN 2014J, could instead have been caused by the merger of two white dwarf stars, an event that should result in little or no X-rays after the . Further observations could rule out or confirm other possible triggers.

"Being able to eliminate one of the main possible explanations for what caused SN 2014J to explode is a big step," said CfA's Atish Kamble, a co-author of the study. "The next step is to narrow things down even further."

Type Ia supernovas are used as cosmic distance-markers, and have played a key role in the discovery of the universe's accelerated expansion. At about 12 million light-years from Earth, SN 2014J and its host galaxy are close—from a cosmic perspective. This offers scientists a chance to observe details that would be too hard to detect in more .

"It's crucial that we understand exactly how these stars explode because so much is riding on our observations of them for cosmology," said co-author Jerod Parrent, also from CfA. "SN 2014J might be a chance of a lifetime to study one of these supernovas in detail as it happens."

The study of SN 2014J is similar to a study led by Margutti about another , SN 2011fe, in the nearby galaxy M101.

This study was conducted by CfA's Supernova Forensics Team, led by Alicia Soderberg. The results were published online and in the July 20 print issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Explore further: Hubble finds supernova star system linked to potential 'zombie star'

More information: The Astrophysical Journal: dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-637X/790/1/52 . On Arxiv: arxiv.org/abs/1405.1488 [preprint]

Related Stories

Hubble monitors supernova in nearby galaxy M82

February 26, 2014

This is a Hubble Space Telescope composite image of a supernova explosion designated SN 2014J in the galaxy M82. At a distance of approximately 11.5 million light-years from Earth it is the closest supernova of its type discovered ...

NASA spacecraft take aim at nearby supernova

January 24, 2014

(Phys.org) —An exceptionally close stellar explosion discovered on Jan. 21 has become the focus of observatories around and above the globe, including several NASA spacecraft. The blast, designated SN 2014J, occurred in ...

New suspect identified in supernova explosion

June 4, 2014

(Phys.org) —Supernovas are often thought of as the tremendous explosions that mark the ends of massive stars' lives. While this is true, not all supernovas occur in this fashion. A common supernova class, called Type Ia, ...

Recommended for you

New Neliota project detects flashes from lunar impacts

May 25, 2017

Using a system developed under an ESA contract, the Greek NELIOTA project has begun to detect flashes of light caused by small pieces of rock striking the moon's surface. NELIOTA is the first system that can determine the ...

Methanol detected for first time around young star

May 25, 2017

Methanol, a key building block for the complex organic compounds that comprise life, has been detected for the first time in the protoplanetary disk of a young, distant star. This finding could help scientists better understand ...

Cassini looks on as solstice arrives at Saturn

May 25, 2017

NASA's Cassini spacecraft still has a few months to go before it completes its mission in September, but the veteran Saturn explorer reaches a new milestone today. Saturn's solstice—that is, the longest day of summer in ...

Discovered: Fast-growing galaxies from early universe

May 24, 2017

A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Eduardo Bañados and led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old—formed less than a billion ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DeliriousNeuron
1 / 5 (4) Aug 14, 2014
If we could only take a volt meter there.....

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.