Sunday, February 12, 2023

Exceptional Optical Nebulosity

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, History of Science

Ed Hessler

This remnant of a supernova explosion, a mere newborn for those who study them - it is only 850 years old, is shown and discussed in reporting in  Nature News, January 26, 2023 by Shannon Hall. 

It looks like something you'd see in a fireworks display. It is also one with distinction, with Hall noting it is "the most unusual remnant that researchers have ever found." The article describing it has been posted in a preprint on Arxiv > astro-ph  (not yet peer-previewed) * that is completely accessible including as a PDF. The image there is in black - and - white. The title uses the language of science, referring to it as an "exceptional optical nebulosity," a good description of this unusual object.

Below are a few tantalizing nuggets from Hall's reporting.

--In 2013, it was discovered by an amateur astronomer who was studying archived images from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. 

--Always an object of intrigue, Pa 30 (technical name) was again the subject of intrigue in 2021, when Andreas Ritter, an astronomer at the University of Hong Kong, and his colleagues proposed that the remnant is the aftermath of a supernova that lit up the sky nearly 850 years ago, in 1181.

--How astronomers took advantage of an element in the spectrum for further study is explained.

--The possible cause of such a remnant is described by Hall. There are several possible mechanisms. One scientist said it "definitely broadens, in my mind, what could have led to a type-Iax supernova.”

--And because it is closer to us than most rare explosions --2.3 kiloparsecs away, observations will be much clearer as it is further studied which may lead to a more evidence-based conclusion on what it really is and how it formed.

For now, we amateurs can be impressed by its beauty and also that it can be studied using tools of scientists.

It is a remarkable report combining new and much older observations first made by observers quite close in time to us. How fascinated and excited they must have been upon first noticing it.
* The astro-ph library is an exceptional site at Cornell University where recent scientific results, close to publication can be shared with other scientists --I often think of it as part of the sharpening process, for interested scientists will no doubt contact the authors with questions, comments and suggestions as it heads to a peer-reviewed scientific publication. 

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