Young Supernova Remnant Discovered By NASA’s Swift Satellite
March 16, 2013

Young Supernova Remnant Discovered By NASA’s Swift Satellite

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

NASA´s Swift space observatory detected the previously undiscovered remains of a supernova during an extensive X-ray survey of the Milky Way, officials from the US space agency announced on Friday.

NASA believes the shattered star remains, which have been named G306.3—0.9 after the coordinates of its sky position, are among the youngest-known supernova remnants in the galaxy.

“Astronomers have previously cataloged more than 300 supernova remnants in the galaxy,” lead scientist Mark T. Reynolds, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “Our analysis indicates that G306.3—0.9 is likely less than 2,500 years old, making it one of the 20 youngest remnants identified.”

Supernova explosions occur only once or twice per century in the Milky Way, according to scientists. By combining Swift´s observations with those obtained by NASA´s Chandra and Spitzer probes — as well as radio observations from the Australia Telescope Compact Array — NASA astronomers were able to place the newly discovered G306.3 0.9 “in context with star formation regions in southern Centaurus.”

They compared young supernovas to fresh evidence discovered at a crime scene, noting that the most recent remnants provide researchers with the greatest opportunity to discern the characteristics of the original star and how it ultimately met its end. G306.3 0.9 provides an even greater opportunity, as astronomers believe that only one or two supernova explosions occur in the Milky Way each century.

Reynolds leads a project known as the Swift Galactic Plane Survey, which is an attempt to create an image of a two-degree-wide strip of our galaxy´s central plane using both ultraviolet and X-ray energy at the same time. The project began in 2011 and should be completed sometime this summer, NASA said. The details of G306.3 0.9´s discovery are detailed in The Astrophysical Journal.

"The Swift survey leverages infrared imaging previously compiled by NASA´s Spitzer Space Telescope and extends it into higher energies," said Michael Siegel, a member of the survey team and a research associate at the Swift Mission Operations Center (MOC) at Penn State University. "The infrared and X-ray surveys complement each other because light at these energies penetrates dust clouds in the galactic plane, while the ultraviolet is largely extinguished."

“Using an estimated distance of 26,000 light-years for G306.3—0.9, the scientists determined that the explosion´s shock wave is racing through space at about 1.5 million mph (2.4 million km/h),” NASA added. “The Chandra observations reveal the presence of iron, neon, silicon and sulfur at temperatures exceeding 50 million degrees F (28 million C), a reminder not only of the energies involved but of the role supernovae play in seeding the galaxy with heavy elements produced in the hearts of massive stars.”