Uncovering Secrets of the Tycho Supernova Remnant: IXPE Reveals Geometry of Magnetic Fields
Using data from NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), international researchers have made a major breakthrough in uncovering secrets of the Tycho supernova remnant, an exploded star in the constellation Cassiopeia first seen on Earth in 1572. By mapping the geometry of the magnetic fields close to the supernova’s shock wave, the IXPE data have been combined with data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to reveal a boundary around the ejected material.
A Type Ia supernova, such as the Tycho supernova, is caused by a white dwarf star in a binary system accumulating mass from its companion star and subsequently exploding in a powerful manner. According to NASA, the Tycho supernova blast itself released as much energy as the Sun would put out over the course of 10 billion years, and this brilliance rendered the Tycho supernova visible to the naked eye on Earth in 1572, when it was discovered by Tycho Brahe and other stargazers, potentially including an 8-year-old William Shakespeare, who went on to describe the Tycho supernova in an early passage of “Hamlet”.
The results offer new clues about how shock waves created by these titanic stellar explosions accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light, and reveal, for the first time, the geometry of the magnetic fields close to the supernova’s blast wave. IXPE is demonstrating that powerful and turbulent magnetic fields are necessary, but also that a considerable uniformity, or coherence, is involved, unfolding even to the precise sites where the acceleration is happening.
This research looks into how supernova shock waves can accelerate particles up to nearly the speed of light. 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 waves that make up X-rays from a high-energy source like the remnant.
Scientists have also documented similarities and surprising differences between IXPE’s findings at Tycho and at the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant, an earlier subject of study. It appears that the magnetic fields in both supernova remnants have a radial orientation, stretching outwards.
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