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3-D supernova

06 Ionawr 2008

3D image of Cassiopeia A showing the high velocity plumes and jets

A team of astronomers including a University scientist has created the first three-dimensional reconstruction of the remnants of an exploding star.

Dr Haley Gomez, of the School of Physics and Astronomy is part of an international group that has produced a 3-D model of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, the remains of a star thought to have exploded 330 years ago.

Using X-Ray images, and infrared data, the team led by Dr Tracey DeLaney of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created the visualisation of the supernova to get a more complete understanding of how the explosion happened.

The model brought together the best techniques from the fields of astronomy and medical imaging, and allowed the group to identify a number of new findings. One of the notable features revealed by the 3-D visualisation were high velocity plumes and jets shooting out from the explosion. Astronomers had known about the plumes and jets before, but did not know that they all came out in a broad, disk-like structure. Any future models of stellar explosions must now consider this new observational finding.

Dr Gomez said: "This reconstruction is really extraordinary. Astronomers and the public are used to seeing flat 2-D pictures, far removed from our everyday 3-D life. Now, we can visualise an object 11,000 light years away from different angles. As well as being a pretty picture, it provides an amazing insight into the original explosion of the star."

Dr Delaney said: "We have always wanted to know how the pieces we see in two dimensions fit together with each other in real life. Now we can see for ourselves with this 'hologram' of supernova debris."

The infrared part of the project was led by Lawrence Rudnick of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the research was presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, California.