May 15, 2008

Youngest Supernova of Milky Way

Astronomers have discovered the most recent supernova in our Milky Way. A research paper published in the January 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters, reported this discovery. Named as G1.9+0.3, the supernova in the constellation Sagitarius is some 140 years old and was detected through radio and X-ray telescopes.

The original, dazzling explosion of this supernova was hidden from view by a dense field of gas and dust near the galaxy center. Based on the rate of expansion of the supernova remains, astronomers have found that it is about 200 years younger than Cassiopeia A, the last known Milky Way supernova that exploded around 1680.

Stephen Reynolds of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who led the study, said the new supernova was first noticed by astronomers more than 20 years ago, when the original explosion was estimated to have happened 400-1,000 years ago. Its more recent origin became apparent, when images of the object taken in 2007 through NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory were compared with the 1985 images of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array.

Supernovae occur when stars run out of nuclear fuel and explode, providing crucial information about the universe's history. They heat and redistribute large amounts of gas, and pump heavy elements out into their surroundings and can trigger the formation of new stars as part of a cycle of stellar death and rebirth. Supernovae are estimated to happen about three times per century in the Milky Way. NASA


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