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Researchers Devise Method To Measure Temperature Of Atoms During Supernovae

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An international team of scientists has developed a method that will allow scientists to gauge the shock wave that results from a star's supernova explosion.

By analyzing the remnants of the supernova of the star SN1987A using data collected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the team was able to confirm the temperature up to the heaviest atom. They were able to create a model of the supernova that answers long-standing questions about shock waves and the physical processes that take place behind the explosion.

"Supernova explosions and their remnants provide cosmic laboratories that enable us to explore physics in extreme conditions that cannot be duplicated on Earth," stated David Burrows, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University and an author of the study.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday, Jan. 21.

Death Of A Star

For the study, the researchers referred to the available data from the explosive death of a star located in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The light of the supernova SN1987A first reached Earth on Feb. 23, 1987, and since then, have been observed by scientists at all wavelengths of light.

A supernova is the largest explosion that can take place in space. It happens at the end of the lifetime of a star, when it runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses in itself, resulting in a giant explosion that propels materials outwards at speeds of up to one-tenth of the speed of light. A supernova explosion pushes shock waves into the surrounding interstellar gas, heating the cool, slow-moving gas to millions of degrees that can be detected from Earth.

The researchers are interested in the shock fronts, which have been extensively probed in the Earth's atmosphere where it happens in an extremely narrow region. In space, they explain that shock fronts happen slowly and do not affect all atoms in the same way.

To measure the atomic temperature of different elements, the researchers created three-dimensional numerical simulations of the supernova from the onset to its current stage and compared the data with X-ray observations made by Chandra.

Better Understanding Of Supernovae

"We can now accurately measure the temperatures of elements as heavy as silicon and iron, and have shown that they indeed do follow the relationship that the temperature of each element is proportional to the atomic weight of that element," explained Burrows.

The research contributes to the current understanding of astrophysical shock waves and the shock process.

 

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