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SN 1006: X-Ray View of A Thousand-Year-Old Cosmic Tapestry

  • A new Chandra image of SN 1006 provides new details about the remains of an exploded star.

  • This explosion was witnessed from Earth over a millennium ago.

  • The Chandra data provides the best map to date of the debris field including information on important elements expanding into space.

  • SN 1006 belongs to a class of supernova used to measure the expansion of the Universe.

This year, astronomers around the world have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of X-ray astronomy. Few objects better illustrate the progress of the field in the past half-century than the supernova remnant known as SN 1006.

When the object we now call SN 1006 first appeared on May 1, 1006 A.D., it was far brighter than Venus and visible during the daytime for weeks. Astronomers in China, Japan, Europe, and the Arab world all documented this spectacular sight. With the advent of the Space Age in the 1960s, scientists were able to launch instruments and detectors above Earth's atmosphere to observe the Universe in wavelengths that are blocked from the ground, including X-rays. SN 1006 was one of the faintest X-ray sources detected by the first generation of X-ray satellites.

A new image of SN 1006 from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals this supernova remnant in exquisite detail. By overlapping ten different pointings of Chandra's field-of-view, astronomers have stitched together a cosmic tapestry of the debris field that was created when a white dwarf star exploded, sending its material hurtling into space. In this new Chandra image, low, medium, and higher-energy X-rays are colored red, green, and blue respectively.

The Chandra image provides new insight into the nature of SN1006, which is the remnant of a so-called Type Ia supernova . This class of supernova is caused when a white dwarf pulls too much mass from a companion star and explodes, or when two white dwarfs merge and explode. Understanding Type Ia supernovas is especially important because astronomers use observations of these explosions in distant galaxies as mileposts to mark the expansion of the Universe.

The new SN 1006 image represents the most spatially detailed map yet of the material ejected during a Type Ia supernova. By examining the different elements in the debris field -- such as silicon, oxygen, and magnesium -- the researchers may be able to piece together how the star looked before it exploded and the order that the layers of the star were ejected, and constrain theoretical models for the explosion.

Scientists are also able to study just how fast specific knots of material are moving away from the original explosion. The fastest knots are moving outward at almost eleven million miles per hour, while those in other areas are moving at a more leisurely seven million miles per hour. SN 1006 is located about 7,000 light years from Earth. The new Chandra image of SN 1006 contains over 8 days worth of observing time by the telescope. These results were presented at a meeting of High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society in Monterey, CA.

This work involved Frank Winkler, from Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT; Satoru Katsuda from The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) in Saitama, Japan; Knox Long from Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD; Robert Petre from NASA -Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD; Stephen Reynolds from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC; and Brian Williams from NASA -GSFC in Greenbelt, MD.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

Fast Facts for SN 1006:
Credit  NASA/CXC/Middlebury College/F.Winkler
Release Date  April 17, 2013
Scale  Image is 34 arcmin across (about 70 light years)
Category  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 15h 04m 10.01s | Dec -41° 53´ 44.88"
Constellation  Lupus
Observation Date  24 pointings between July 10, 2000 and June 15, 2012
Observation Time  248 hours (10 days, 8 hours).
Obs. ID  732, 1959, 3838, 4385-4394, 9107, 13737-13743, 14423, 14424, 14435
Instrument  ACIS
Also Known As SNR 327.6+14.6
Color Code  X-ray (Red, Green, Blue)
Distance Estimate  About 7,000 light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (4)

I am always asking myself how stars emit X-rays, so can I get the answer please?

Posted by NASAFan on Tuesday, 07.1.14 @ 07:44am

Because this event was 7000 light years from us, this means the event actually took place 7000 years before it was observed and any effects on us from it could take place. At that distance any emitted radiation from it should have been very reduced.

Posted by Jerry Greenberg on Tuesday, 12.24.13 @ 17:20pm

So, figure it blew up 8000 yrs ago. What gives the remaining matter so much energy to still be emitting Xrays 1000 yrs after the bang?

Posted by larry on Thursday, 04.18.13 @ 23:50pm

How is the 34 arcmin scale calculated?

Posted by John Ferri on Thursday, 04.18.13 @ 12:02pm

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