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SN 2010jl: A Supernova Cocoon Breakthrough
SN 2010jl
SN 2010jl

  • The first evidence in X-rays of a supernova shock wave breaking through a cocoon of gas around the star has been found.

  • This discovery may help explain why some supernova explosions are more powerful than others.

  • This supernova is called SN 2010jl and is found in a galaxy about 160 million light years from Earth.

  • SN 2010jl was first spotted by astronomers on November 3, 2010, and probably exploded about a month before that.

Observations with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have provided the first X-ray evidence of a supernova shock wave breaking through a cocoon of gas surrounding the star that exploded. This discovery may help astronomers understand why some supernovas are much more powerful than others.

On November 3, 2010, a supernova was discovered in the galaxy UGC 5189A, located about 160 million light years away. Using data from the All Sky Automated Survey telescope in Hawaii taken earlier, astronomers determined this supernova exploded in early October 2010 (in Earth's time-frame).

This composite image of UGC 5189A shows X-ray data from Chandra in purple and optical data from Hubble Space Telescope in red, green and blue. SN 2010jl is the very bright X-ray source near the top of the galaxy (mouse-over for a labeled version).

A team of researchers used Chandra to observe this supernova in December 2010 and again in October 2011. The supernova was one of the most luminous that has ever been detected in X-rays.

In optical light, SN 2010jl was about ten times more luminous than a typical supernova resulting from the collapse of a massive star, adding to the class of very luminous supernovas that have been discovered recently with optical surveys. Different explanations have been proposed to explain these energetic supernovas including (1) the interaction of the supernova's blast wave with a dense shell of matter around the pre-supernova star, (2) radioactivity resulting from a pair-instability supernova (triggered by the conversion of gamma rays into particle and anti-particle pairs), and (3) emission powered by a neutron star with an unusually powerful magnetic field.

In the first Chandra observation of SN 2010jl, the X-rays from the explosion's blast wave were strongly absorbed by a cocoon of dense gas around the supernova. This cocoon was formed by gas blown away from the massive star before it exploded.

In the second observation taken almost a year later, there is much less absorption of X-ray emission, indicating that the blast wave from the explosion has broken out of the surrounding cocoon. The Chandra data show that the gas emitting the X-rays has a very high temperature -- greater than 100 million degrees Kelvin - strong evidence that it has been heated by the supernova blast wave.

The energy distribution, or spectrum, of SN 2010jl in optical light reveals features that the researchers think are explained by the following scenario: matter around the supernova has been heated and ionized (electrons stripped from atoms) by X-rays generated when the blast wave plows through this material. While this type of interaction has been proposed before, the new observations directly show, for the first time, that this is happening.

Therefore, this discovery supports the idea that some supernovas are unusually luminous because their blast waves ram into material around them.

In a rare example of a cosmic coincidence, analysis of the X-rays from the supernova shows that there is a second unrelated source at almost the same location as the supernova. These two sources strongly overlap one another as seen on the sky. This second source is likely to be an ultraluminous X-ray source, possibly containing an unusually heavy stellar-mass black hole, or an intermediate mass black hole.

These results were published in a paper appearing in the May 1st, 2012 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The authors were Poonam Chandra (Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Canada), Roger Chevalier and Christopher Irwin (University of Virginia, Charlottsville, VA), Nikolai Chugai (Institute of Astronomy of Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia), Claes Fransson (Stockholm University, Sweden), and Alicia Soderberg (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA).

Fast Facts for SN 2010jl:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/Royal Military College of Canada/P.Chandra et al); Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date  May 15, 2012
Scale  46 arcsec across (36,000 light years)
Category  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 09h 42m 53.33s | Dec +09° 29´ 41.80"
Constellation  Leo
Observation Date  3 pointings between 7 Dec 2010 and 17 Oct 2011
Observation Time  22 hours 13 min
Obs. ID  11122, 13199, 13781
Instrument  ACIS
References Chandra, P. et al, 2012 ApJ 750:L2; arXiv:1203.1614
Color Code  X-ray (Purple); Optical (Red, Green, Blue)
Distance Estimate  About 163 million light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (8)

Well done.
This could prove to a very useful discovery.

Posted by Mark Ballington on Friday, 05.18.12 @ 10:40am

Great image. I particularly like its axial symmetry

Posted by ben on Thursday, 05.17.12 @ 11:17am

Thank you for sending this. This will be a wonderful teaching aid not only on supernovas but the use of electromagnetic waves. This is truly awesome!

Posted by Sarah on Thursday, 05.17.12 @ 09:32am

Beautiful image!
It seems a bit unusual to have so many X-ray sources in one area, especially given the overlapping sources at the top. I assume these are foreground sources?

Posted by CephasB on Thursday, 05.17.12 @ 07:06am

Doesn't current theoretical physics say that Black Holes are born from Supernova events? Why is it a coincidence to have the two at the same location?

Posted by Ike on Wednesday, 05.16.12 @ 17:17pm

Great NASA! We hope NASA will reveal step by step the outer space secret. Thanks.

Posted by yossi on Tuesday, 05.15.12 @ 20:57pm


Posted by Lia on Tuesday, 05.15.12 @ 12:56pm


Posted by M. Hunter on Tuesday, 05.15.12 @ 11:35am

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