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Chandra X-ray Image
of RCW 86
(Credit: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Utrecht/J.Vink et al.)

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RCW 86:
New Evidence Links Stellar Remains to Oldest Recorded Supernova



Credit: Chandra: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Utrecht/J.Vink et al. XMM-Newton: ESA/Univ. of Utrecht/J.Vink et al.

The combined image from the Chandra and XMM-Newton X-ray observatories of RCW 86 shows the expanding ring of debris that was created after a massive star in the Milky Way collapsed onto itself and exploded. Both the Chandra and XMM images show low energy X-rays in red, medium energies in green and high energies in blue. The Chandra observations focused on the northeast (left-hand) side of RCW 86, and show that X-ray radiation is produced both by high-energy electrons accelerated in a magnetic field (blue) as well as heat from the blast itself (red).

Properties of the shell in the Chandra image, along with the remnant's size and a basic understanding of how supernovas expand, were used to help determine the age of RCW 86. The new data revealed that RCW 86 was created by a star that exploded about 2,000 years ago. This age matches observations of a new bright star by Chinese astronomers in 185 A.D. (and possibly Romans as well) and may be the oldest known recordings of a supernova. Supernova explosions in galaxies like ours are rare, and none have been recorded in hundreds of years.

Fast Facts for RCW 86:
Credit  Chandra: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Utrecht/J.Vink et al. XMM-Newton: ESA/Univ. of Utrecht/J.Vink et al.
Scale  Chandra field of view is 38 arcmin across
Category  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 14h 45m 02.30s | Dec -62º 20' 32.00"
Constellation  Circinus
Observation Date  June 15, 2004
Observation Time  20 hours
Obs. ID  4611
Color Code  Energy (Red: 0.5-1 keV; Green: 1-1.95 keV; Blue: 1.95-6.6 keV)
Instrument  ACIS
Also Known As G315.4-2.1
Distance Estimate  About 8,200 light years
Release Date  September 18, 2006