April 23, 2009

Math used to study a supernova remnant

U.S. astronomers say they've used a mathematical model to obtain a clearer picture of the galaxy's youngest supernova remnant.

Researchers at North Carolina State University said the model corrects for the distortions caused by cosmic dust, thereby providing evidence that the remnant is from a type Ia supernova and raising questions about the ways in which magnetic fields affect the generation of the remnant's cosmic ray particles.

Physicists Stephen Reynolds and Kazimierz Borkowski -- with colleagues from Cambridge University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- said they re-examined the original X-ray images of the supernova remnant in an attempt to glean more information about its origins, rate of expansion and any cosmic particles that may have resulted from the explosion. Scientists know supernovae create cosmic rays, but they aren't sure how that occurs or what other functions the particles may serve.

We knew the dust was a problem -- it's why we never saw the original supernova light in Victorian times, Reynolds said. Our high-powered orbiting telescopes use X-rays to take pictures of these objects, and the dust scatters these X-rays. So in order to get data that might be helpful to us, we first had to correct for the dust distortion.

The results of the research appear in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.