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Home > iSGTW 7 October 2009 Astronomy issue > Image - Space viewed through X-ray glasses

 

Image of the week - Space viewed through X-ray glasses


The Kepler supernova viewed through the Chandra X-ray telescope.

The different colors represent different energy X-rays. Red indicates low energy, due to the material around the star (mainly oxygen) which is heated up during the explosion. Blue represents the highest energy X-rays, which characterize the shock front of the explosion. The yellow and green parts are the different chemical elements produced as a result of the supernova. (Click on image to enlarge.) Courtesy NASA/CXC/NCSU/S.Reynolds et al.

Ever wondered what things would look like viewed through X-ray glasses? In a sense, this is what the telescope on NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory does when pointed towards the hottest parts of space. 

At right are the remnants of the supernova created when Kepler (a star named after the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler) exploded. It is one of the youngest and brightest recorded supernovae in our Milky Way galaxy.

Using Chandra data, astronomers have identified this as a Type Ia supernova formed when a white dwarf star, made up of carbon and oxygen, becomes unstable and ignites.

Astronomers are not clear exactly how the burning front of a white dwarf star propagates from the center, because the structure of the front is very complicated and small compared to the start itself.

Scientists at the Max-Planck institute use supercomputers to run 3-D simulations of Type Ia supernovae, the largest of which produce several Terabytes of data. Currently, they use the IBM Power 6 supercomputer at the Max-Planck society in Garching, and the Jugene supercomputer at the Jülich Research Center.

The simulations predict observable properties, such as light curves and spectra, which can then be compared to observation data to evaluate the modeling process. Because the resolution of Chandra is better than any optical telescopes, comparing images such as this to the simulations offers the possibility of a more detailed evaluation, which will help refine the models and use them to better understand Type Ia supernovae.

Seth Bell, iSGTW

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