Astronomer believes supernova remnants are double what we know

New technology could help trace the remnants of dead stars that burst in our galaxy, which could pave the way for further studies.
Shubhangi Dua
Astronomer believes supernova remnants are double than expected in this galaxy
Astronomer believes supernova remnants are double than expected in this galaxy

3quarks / iStock 

With the European Space Agency (ESA) and Swiss startup ClearSpace launching a European space debris cleanup mission called ClearSpace-1 by 2026, scientists in other parts of the world have been focusing their efforts on identifying supernova remnants.

An astronomer at the University of West Virginia has been on the hunt for debris in the Milky Way left behind by supernovas.

Existence of double remnants

Supernovas are violent explosions that transpire when massive stars die. The materials emerging from the burst star as a result of the supernova expand outwards and form a shell or “remnant.”

Loren Anderson, professor at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, stated:

“Essential for understanding the properties and dynamics of our galaxy — but there is a severe discrepancy in the number of supernova remnants we would expect to see compared to the relatively low number we have detected.”

The statement explained that nearly 300 to 400 supernovas have been identified in the Milky Way so far, however, other studies believe that around 1k supernova remnants exist in this galaxy alone. 

Anderson believes that he could double the number of known supernova remnants by the end of his three-year study. 

Determining debris

The process of determining supernovas mandates precise data as recognizing supernova remnants can be confused with numerous HII regions – clouds of dense plasma that surround massive stars, highlighted Anderson.

Therefore, Timothy Faerberl, a graduate student working with Anderson, plans to utilize radio wavelength data from the Very Large Array and MeerKAT telescopes to identify supernova remnant candidates. 

The data will be combined with machine-learning software that employs old-school scanning “by eye,” allowing the astronomer to confirm the supernova debris specifically. 

Anderson noted that the study is timely, “Recent data from MeerKAT allow for the most sensitive search for supernova remnants yet, and recent works have identified hundreds of possible supernova remnants that need to be confirmed.”

Commencing search

The researchers have commenced an initial pursuit of a few square degrees of GPS data from the MeerKAT telescope. Anderson says that the results are incredibly promising.

He added that the technology is currently able to recognize supernova debris in crowded parts of the inner galaxy, which may further help find newer remnants that “still haven’t spread out or dispersed far.”

The statement accentuated that these “young, compact” remnants are especially valuable to researchers interested in supernovas’ impacts on interstellar matter and radiation.

The astronomer aims to identify new remnants in order to study the supernovas in detail, as that would help curate a three-dimensional reconstruction of the supernova material in space. Such an initiative could enable scientists to learn more about what the shock of a supernova does to other matter in the galaxy.

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