London, Dec 9: Astronomers have uncovered new evidence that suggests that space-borne X-ray detectors could be the first to spot new supernovae signalling the death of massive stars.
University of Leicester researchers measured an excess of X-ray radiation in the first few minutes of collapsing massive stars, which may be the signature of the supernova shock wave first escaping from the star.
“The most massive stars can be tens to a hundred times larger than the Sun. When one of these giants runs out of hydrogen gas it collapses catastrophically and explodes as a supernova, blowing off its outer layers which enrich the Universe,” said Rhaana Starling, astrophysicist at Leicester and study co-author.
But this is no ordinary supernova; in the explosion narrowly confined streams of material are forced out of the poles of the star at almost the speed of light, the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society reported.
“These so-called relativistic jets give rise to brief flashes of energetic gamma-radiation called gamma-ray bursts, which are picked up by monitoring instruments in Space, that in turn alert astronomers,” added Starling, according to Leicester statement.
Only the most energetic supernovae go hand-in-hand with gamma-ray bursts, but for this sub-class it may be possible to identify X-ray emission signatures of the supernova in its infancy.
If the supernova could be detected earlier, by using the X-ray early warning system, astronomers could monitor the event as it happens and pinpoint the drivers behind one of the most violent events in our Universe.