Friday, March 25, 2011

Exploding Stars and Stripes-NASA's Information

The discovery of a pattern of X-ray “stripes” in the remains of an exploded star may provide the first direct evidence that a cosmic event can accelerate particles to energies a hundred times higher than achieved by the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth.This result comes from a very long observation of the Tycho supernova remnant with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. It could explain how some of the extremely energetic particles bombarding the Earth, called cosmic rays, are produced. “We've seen lots of intriguing structures in supernova remnants, but we’ve never seen stripes before,” said Kristoffer Eriksen of Rutgers University, who led the study. “This made us think very hard about what's happening in the blast wave of this powerful explosion.” This latest study from Chandra provides support for a theory about how magnetic fields can be dramatically amplified in such blast waves.

In this theory, the magnetic fields become highly tangled and the motions of the particles very turbulent near the expanding supernova shock wave at the front edge of the supernova remnant. High-energy charged particles can bounce back and forth across the shock wave repeatedly, gaining energy with each crossing. Theoretical models of the motion of the most energetic particles -- which are mostly protons -- are predicted to leave a messy network of holes and dense walls corresponding to weak and strong regions of magnetic fields, respectively. The X-ray stripes discovered by the Chandra researchers are thought to be regions where the turbulence is greater and the magnetic fields more tangled than surrounding areas, and may be the walls predicted by the theory. Electrons become trapped in these regions and emit X-rays as they spiral around the magnetic field lines.

However, the regular and almost periodic pattern of the X-ray stripes was not predicted by the theory. "It was a big surprise to find such a neatly arranged set of stripes," said co-author Jack Hughes, also of Rutgers. "We were not expecting so much order to appear in so much chaos. It could mean that the theory is incomplete, or that there's something else we don't understand."