International scientists have uncovered new clues about the supernova remnant called Tycho.
The findings shed light on how conditions in the shock waves caused by titantic stellar explosions – known as supernovae – accelerate particles to near the speed of light.
Astronomers used NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer to look at polarized X-rays from the Tycho supernova remnant. NASA said the star’s explosion was discovered 450 years ago.
For the first time, IXPE revealed the geometry to the magnetic fields close to the shock wave, which is still propagating from the initial explosion and forms a boundary around the ejected material.
By measuring X-ray polarization, the authors of a study published in The Astrophysical journal can determine the average direction and ordering of the magnetic field of light ways that make up X-rays from a high-energy source like the remnant.
The polarized X-rays are produced in a process called synchrotron emission, and the polarization direction from the X-rays can be mapped back to the direction of the magnetic fields at the location where the X-rays were generated.
Building on groundwork laid by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, IXPE allows scientists to better understand the process in which cosmic rays – highly energetic particles – are accelerated by supernova remnants. It helped map the shape of Tycho’s magnetic field, measuring it on scales smaller than one parsec.
It’s the closest researchers have ever come to observing the source of the cosmic rays emitted by one of these distant phenomena.
The supernova’s namesake, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe noticed the “star” in the constellation Cassiopeia in 1572.
The Tycho supernova is classified as a Type Ia, which occurs when a white dwarf star in a binary system shreds its companion star, capturing some of its mass and leading to a violent explosion.