Astronomers have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to observe the remnant of a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Beyond just delivering a beautiful image, Hubble may well have traced the surviving remains of the exploded star’s companion.
A group of astronomers used Hubble to study the remnant of the Type Ia supernova explosion SNR 0509-68.7 — also known as N103B (seen at the top). The supernova remnant is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, just over 160 000 light-years from Earth. In contrast to many other Supernova remnants N103B does not appear to have a spherical shape but is strongly elliptical. Astronomers assume that part of material ejected by the explosion hit a denser cloud of interstellar material, which slowed its speed. The shell of expanding material being open to one side supports this idea.
This image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the supernova remnant SNR 0509-68.7, also known as N103B (top of the image). N103B was a Type Ia supernova, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud — a neighbouring galaxy of the Milky Way. Owing to its relative proximity to Earth, astronomers observe the remnant to search for a potential stellar survivor of the explosion.
The orange-red filaments visible in the image show the shock fronts of the supernova explosion. These filaments allow astronomers to calculate the original centre of the explosion. The filaments also show that the explosion is no longer expanding as a sphere, but is elliptical in shape. Astronomers assume that part of material ejected by the explosion hit a denser cloud of interstellar material, which slowed its speed. The shell of expanding material being open to one side supports this idea.
The gas in the lower half of the image and the dense concentration of stars in the lower left are the outskirts of the star cluster NGC 1850, which has been observed by Hubble in the past [heic0108].
There are currently two main theories describing how these binary systems become supernovae. Studies like the one that has provided the new image of N103B — that involve searching for remnants of past explosions — can help astronomers to finally confirm one of the two theories.
This video starts with a wide-field view of the night sky, as seen from the ground, displaying the Large and the Small Magellanic Clouds. It zooms in on the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, and onto the star cluster NGC 1850. Just next to the bright cluster Hubble observed the supernova remnant N103B. In the remnant of this supernova astronomers hope to find the surviving star of a supernova explosion.
Credit:ESA/Hubble, Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org), R. Gendler & ESO Music: Johan Monell
Astronomers observed the N103B supernova remnant in a search for such a companion. They looked at the region in H-alpha — which highlights regions of gas ionised by the radiation from nearby stars — to locate supernova shock fronts. They hoped to find a star near the centre of the explosion which is indicated by the curved shock fronts. The discovery of a surviving companion would put an end to the ongoing discussion about the origin of type Ia supernova.
The supernova remnant N103B can be found in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The elliptical-shaped gas cloud is the leftover of the past explosion and astronomers investigate it in the hope of finding the remains of the exploded star’s companion.
This pan shows N103B as well as the outskirts of the star cluster NGC 1850.
Credit: ESA/Hubble.Music: Johan Monell
This ground-based image shows both the Small and the Large Magellanic Clouds — two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. The Small Magellanic Cloud can be seen on the left, the Large Magellanic Cloud on the right.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.
Contacts and sources:
You-Hua Chu, Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica
Mathias Jäger. ESA/Hubble
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