Subaru Telescope Reveals 3D Structure of Supernovae
Figure 1: Schematic drawing of the 3D structure (left) and the image of SN 2009mi (right) captured with FOCAS on the Subaru Telescope. This supernova was discovered in the galaxy IC 2151 (in the direction of the constellation Lepas, about 100 million light years away) by Berto Monard in South Africa. (Credit: NAOJ) Read more at: phys.org
A research group led by Dr. Masaomi Tanaka (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan), Dr. Koji Kawabata (Hiroshima University), Dr. Takashi Hattori (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan), and Dr. Keiichi Maeda (University of Tokyo, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe) used the Faint Object Camera and Spectrograph (FOCAS) on the Subaru Telescope to conduct observations that revealed a clumpy 3D structure of supernovae (Figure 1). This finding supports a clumpy 3D scenario of supernovae explosions rather than the widely accepted bipolar explosion scenario. It advances our understanding of how supernovae explode, a process that has been a persistent mystery.
Stars heavier than eight solar masses will end their lives with a brilliant explosion called a “supernova”. A supernova ejects elements synthesized within its star that are heavier than hydrogen and helium, the main elements of the primeval Universe. The ejection of these heavier elements into interstellar space has enriched the chemical composition of the Universe.
Despite its important role in the evolution of the Universe, the process of how supernovae explosions occur has been unclear. Based on recent numerical simulations, researchers agree that supernovae would not succeed as one-dimensional, spherical events and that multi-dimensional effects are important for understanding their occurrence. Scientists have proposed two main scenarios to explain how supernovae explosions occur: (1) a bipolar explosion facilitated by rotation, and (2) a clumpy 3D explosion driven by convection. However, scientists have not known which scenario is more plausible, because they have not actually observed the shape of supernovae.
Although it would seem easy to see the shape of supernovae by simply taking a picture of them, observing them is really a very challenging task. Since most supernovae occur in galaxies millions or hundreds of million light years away, they only look like a point, even though they expand at a speed of 10,000 km/s.