Star Survives Supernova Blast to the Face

If you think you're having a bad day, spare a thought for the surviving star in a binary system after its stellar neighbor detonates as a powerful supernova.

If you think you're having a bad day, spare a thought for the surviving star in a binary system after its stellar neighbor detonates as a powerful supernova.

Now, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and a number of ground-based telescopes have taken a close look into a supernova remnant and spied a battered star that was once part of a binary pair and, amazingly, appears to be in one piece.

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The supernova remnant DEM L241 is a glowing cloud of gas and dust in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy 199,000 light-years away. Supernova remnants are expected to remain very hot for thousands of years after the supernova has occurred, making it a perfect target for Chandra to observe the nebula's X-ray afterglow.

Once part of a binary system, one of the massive stars ran out of hydrogen fuel at the end of its life and exploded. Astrophysicists suspect that either a neutron star (the hyperdense spinning husk of a star's core) or a black hole remains behind. If confirmed, this will be only the third ever massive star-black hole/neutron star binary system discovered after a supernova.

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Through analysis of Chandra X-ray data, astronomers have found that the remnant is rich in oxygen, neon and magnesium, which suggests the pre-supernova star had a mass of between 25-40 times the mass of our sun.

Ground based observatories are now on the case, tracking orbital velocity variations of the battered remaining star in the system. It has an orbital period of only 10 days and by careful measurements of the orbital speed variations, astronomers will hopefully determine what the star is orbiting - a neutron star or black hole.

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In the far future, the remaining star is expected to also explode as a supernova, potentially creating a double neutron star system, a neutron star-black hole system or even a double black hole system.

For more on Chandra's observations of DEM L241, read the NASA news release.

Supernova Plasma Energy

Computer visualization is an essential tool for scientists to gain an insight to how complex physical, biological and chemical phenomena work. From protein structures to the detonation of supernovae, scientists are finding faster, more precise and more powerful means of simulating these systems using supercomputers. One such supercomputer is the Blue Gene®/P housed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago where 160,000 computing cores work in parallel to process 557 trillion calculations per second. If you to tried to simulate an equivalent system on your standard home computer, it would take three years just to download the data! Turning that data into a usable model would be an impossible task. Now, using a new technique called software-based parallel volume rendering, scientists at Argonne are able to visualize 3D models of supernovae. In the visualization above, the various plasma energies of the expanding supernova are color coded, allowing the scientists to peer deep into the inner workings of the explosion, providing an invaluable look at this powerful astrophysical event.

Moment of Detonation

In this visualization, the moment of detonation of a Type 1a supernova is modeled. This situation arises when a white dwarf star has accreted mass from a binary partner to a point when gravitational forces overcome the outward electron degeneracy pressure. The star collapses and it is thought that carbon fusion is initiated in the core, creating a supernova. The star is completely destroyed. Around 1-2 × 1044 Joules of energy is released from Type 1a supernovae, ejecting matter and shock waves traveling at velocities of 3-12,000 miles per second (approximately 2-7% the speed of light).

White Dwarf No More

The Type 1a supernova proceeds in the simulation, ripping through the white dwarf star.

Complex Fluid Mechanics

Detailed visualizations of the nuclear combustion inside a supernova. The calculations are based on fluid mechanics, showing how the explosion rips through the star.

Tycho's Nova

Advanced computational methods as being developed at Argonne National Laboratory will help astrophysicists understand how supernovae behave. This is an image of the famous Tycho's Nova (known as SN 1572), the beautiful remnant of a Type 1a supernova.