(ORDO NEWS) — The torn shell of the first ever recorded supernova was captured by the dark energy camera, which is installed on the 4-meter National Science Foundation (NSF) Victor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, as part of NSF’s NOIRLab program.
The debris ring of RCW 86 is all that remains of a white dwarf that exploded over 1,800 years ago when Chinese stargazers recorded it as a “guest star”.
Scattered around the edges of this star-filled image are thin swirls that seem to fly away from a central point, like fragments of a burst balloon.
These cloud-like objects are believed to be the glowing remnants of a supernova witnessed by Chinese astronomers in 185 AD. When it appeared, ancient astronomers called it a “guest star”.
This historic supernova, now called SN 185 by astronomers, was over 8,000 light-years away approximately in the direction of Alpha Centauri, between the constellations Circulus and Centaurus.
The structure of RCW 86, captured by the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), helps shed light on how supernova remnants have evolved over the past 1,800 years.
While communications between RCW 86 and SN 185 are now well established, this has not always been the case.
For decades, astronomers thought it would take about 10,000 years for a traditional core-collapse supernova to form the structure we see today.
This would make the structure much older than the supernova observed in 185.
This preliminary estimate is largely based on measurements of the size of the supernova remnant. But a 2006 study found that the large size was due to an extremely high rate of expansion.
The new estimate is much more in line with a relatively young age of about 2000 years, which strengthens the link between RCW 86 and a star observed centuries ago.
However, how was RCW 86 able to expand so quickly? X-ray data from this region revealed the presence of a large amount of iron, which is a hallmark of a Type Ia supernova explosion.
This type of explosion occurs in a binary star system when a dense white dwarf siphons material from its companion star to the point of detonation.
Astronomers now have a more complete picture of how RCW 86 formed.
As the binary white dwarf engulfed its companion star, its high-speed winds pushed surrounding gas and dust outward, creating the cavity we see today.
Then, when the white dwarf could no longer support the mass falling on it from its companion star, it exploded in a massive eruption.
The previously formed cavity provided enough room for the very rapid expansion of high-velocity stellar remnants and the creation of the monumental objects we see today.
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