NASA discovered a new truth about supernovas, announcing Wednesday, Feb. 19, that its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array mission known as NuSTAR, gave scientists intriguing new X-ray data; revealing to NASA astronomers the first map of how stars really explode. A supernova is a star that has collapsed in on itself in a violent explosion, seeding the universe with important elements like iron and gold. Supernovas have been one of the greatest mysteries in astronomy, hiding their true nature. With the help of NuStar, NASA scientists have begun mapping the radioactive material in supernova remnants, unlocking the true nature of supernova explosions.
NuStar has been active since June 13, 2012, when it mounted a Pegasus XL rocket and was released from a Lockheed L-1011 “Tristar” above the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first NASA mission to use high-energy X-ray telescopes to map the sky. Previous views of the universe have all been limited by the spectral window, coded apertures orbiting telescopes that did not posses truly focusing optics with elevated backgrounds and limited sensitivity. NuStar explores the region of the electromagnetic spectrum, unlocking the door to a mysterious universe.
The supernova aspect of the mission was to observe non-thermal radiation in premature supernova remnants, both the hard X-ray continuum and the emissions from the radioactive elements. It was also engineered to study linear and continuum emissions from core-collapsed supernovas to construct explosion models. It was once hypothesized by NASA astronomers that since stars are spherical balls of gas, it was logical to believe that when they exploded as supernovas, the supernova would expand out in a uniform ball. NASA discovered the truth about supernovas, when the X-ray data revealed that the heart of a supernova explosion has distorted inner regions “sloshing around” before exploding. Every supernova leaves behind a dense steller corpse with its ejected remains.
The death of a star, although a violent supernova explosion, seeds the universe with important elements, such as gold, calcium and iron. Without supernovas there would be no calcium for bones, no iron in blood, and no gold in jewelry. The immense temperatures and particles conceived in the supernova blast, fuse light elements together creating the heavier elements. It is indeed true, that the building blocks of human life are conjured by the violent death of a star.
NASA scientists now strongly believe that supernova explosions slosh around before the death of the star, re-energizing the stagnated shock wave to facilitate the star to finally blast off its outermost layers. NuSTAR has also revealed that the dying star is rotating rapidly right before it explodes, launching narrow gas streams that propel the steller blasts. There is still much to be determined before NASA can wholeheartedly confirm that these jets drive the supernova explosion, nor did NuSTAR capture any images of titanium, which replicates as radioactive ash from the supernova.
While NASA has discovered a new truth about supernovas, it has also left astronomers perplexed with complex questions. The sloshing or distorted explosions at the core of supernovas is an intriguing discovery that has left NASA researchers excited for their NuSTAR program. The high-energy universe is largely unknown to astronomers and scientists today, NASA will once again lead the way in the exploration of this universe and how stars die in a violent supernova explosion.
By Zane Foley