The debris is rushing from a supernova explosion first observed by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Kepler was among the first few astronomers in 1604 who witnessed a dying star tear itself apart in a thermonuclear blast. More than 400 years later, and NASA’s space probe has found the supernova’s debris is still racing through space.
The Kepler supernova remnant sits about 20,000 light-years from Earth in the Milky Way galaxy.
NASA’s probe clocked the debris flowing from the remnant at more than 20 million mph.
According to the US space agency, the explosion was a Type Ia supernova.
These cosmic cataclysms are triggered by small and dense stars known as white dwarfs.
When a white dwarf star interacts with a nearby star, it will suck in mass, becoming heavier in the process.
The star will eventually exceed its critical mass and trigger nuclear fusion reactions.
The resulting supernova will completely obliterate the star in about 10 seconds, casting outwards a large cloud of debris.
In the case of the Kepler supernova, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory tracked the speed of 15 small “knots” of debris flowing from the explosion.
They can be seen across the universe
The fastest knot was clocked at an astounding 23 million mph (32 million km/h), the fastest ever detected supernova debris in X-ray.
Average knots travel at about 10 million mph (16 million km/h) and supernova blast waves expand at about 15 million mph (24 million km/h).
NASA said: “The high speeds in Kepler are similar to those scientists have seen in optical observations of supernova explosions in other galaxies only days or weeks after the explosion, well before a supernova remnant forms decades later.
“This comparison implies that some knots in Kepler have hardly been slowed down by collisions with material surrounding the remnant in the approximately 400 years since the explosion.”
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Based on the Chandra observations, eight of the 15 knots are moving away from Earth.
But at least two appear to be headed our way, while the remaining five do not show a clear direction from our point of view.
NASA said: “The explanation for the high-speed material is unclear.
“Some scientists have suggested that the Kepler supernova remnant is from an unusually bright Type Ia, which might explain the fast-moving material.
“It is also possible that the immediate environment around the remnant is itself clumpy, which could allow some of the debris to tunnel through regions of low density and avoid being decelerated very much.”
According to NASA, a star somewhere in our galaxy goes supernova every 50 years or so.
The eruptions are among the most violent cosmic events in the known Universe.
There are two main types of supernovas, Type I and Type II.
NASA said: “These spectacular events can be so bright that they outshine their entire galaxies for a few days or even months. They can be seen across the universe.”
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