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Space archaeology – scientists took a look into the life of a star before its famous death

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Posted August 4, 2016

Archaeologists work hard in order to unearth remains of past events and civilizations. However, not all historic secrets are hidden under a thick layer of dirt – sometimes scientists have to look up instead of looking down. A new research investigated the spectacular explosion of the star, which happened 29 years ago and was the closest seen from Earth.

The supernova remnant 1987A was the closest and the brightest star explosion seen from Earth in the recorded history, but only now scientists managed to look into its past. Image credit: NASA, ESA, P. Challis, and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) via Wikimedia, Public Domain

The supernova remnant 1987A was the closest and the brightest star explosion seen from Earth in the recorded history, but only now scientists managed to look into its past. Image credit: NASA, ESA, P. Challis, and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) via Wikimedia, Public Domain

This study was led by scientists from the University of Sydney, but included an international team of researchers. The past of this famous supernova was revealed using a telescope in remote outback Australia at a site free from FM radio interference. This work really does resemble the job of archaeologists as scientists are analysing the past life of the star, which is already gone. Now it is known as supernova remnant 1987A and scientists had to use the lowest-ever radio frequencies in order to find out more about its life before the famous explosion. It is said that these findings will help scientists to better the understanding of supernovas in general.

Before this study, only the final part of the star’s multi-million-year-long life, about 0.1% or 20,000 years, had been observable. Now, however, this remote telescope, situated in the West Australian desert, and low frequency radio signals helped scientists to take a look into long-lasting red supergiant phase of the dead star. The previous studies examined remains that were spit out during its final blue supergiant phase.

This research revealed that the 1987A lost its matter at a slower rate and generated slower winds during its red supergiant phase than it was previously believed. Joseph Callingham, leader of the study, said: “Our new data improves our knowledge of the composition of space in the region of supernova 1987A; we can now go back to our simulations and tweak them, to better reconstruct the physics of supernova explosions”.

Scientists stress that the location of the telescope was the key to the success of the study, because it is the place with the least amount of our own FM radio signals. Our own earthbound FM radio in other places in the world, overpowers weaker signals from space.

Now that scientists worked out the method, they can use it to excavate other cosmic remains. They say that this research will help astrophysicists understand supernovas better and to research their life before the explosion. Therefore, more interesting researches should be coming in the near future.

Source: sydney.edu.au

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