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Action Replay of Powerful Stellar Explosion

For Release: March 20, 2008

CXC Release

SNR 0509-67.5
Image Credit: Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Warren, J.Hughes; Optical (Light Echo): NOAO/AURA/NSF/Harvard/A.Rest et al.; Optical (LMC): NOAO/AURA/NSF/S.Points, C.Smith & MCELS team
Press Image and Caption

Astronomers have made the best ever determination of the power of a supernova explosion that was visible from Earth long ago. By observing the remnant of a supernova and a light echo from the initial outburst, they have established the validity of a powerful new method for studying supernovas.

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Gemini Observatory, two teams of researchers studied the supernova remnant and the supernova light echo that are located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small galaxy about 160,000 light years from Earth. They concluded that the supernova occurred about 400 years ago (in Earth’s time frame), and was unusually bright and energetic.

This result is the first time two methods - X-ray observations of a supernova remnant and optical observations of the expanding light echoes from the explosion - have both been used to estimate the energy of a supernova explosion. Up until now, scientists had only made such an estimate using the light seen soon after a star exploded, or using remnants that are several hundred years old, but not from both.

"People didn't have advanced telescopes to study supernovas when they went off hundreds of years ago," said Armin Rest of Harvard University, who led the light echo observations using Gemini. "But we've done the next best thing by looking around the site of the explosion and constructing an action replay of it."

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