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The first time, data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray and Webb telescope have been combined to study the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A).

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The first time astronomers have merged data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope to delve into the intricacies of the renowned supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A). Recently unveiled in a press release, this research sheds light on the enigmatic “Green Monster,” a peculiar structure within the remnants of the exploded star, initially detected in Webb data in April 2023. This study not only unravels the mysteries surrounding the Green Monster but also unveils fresh insights into the explosion that birthed Cas A approximately 340 years ago from Earth’s perspective.


The composite image, combining X-rays from Chandra, infrared data from Webb, and optical data from Hubble, with additional contributions from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, provides a comprehensive view of this cosmic spectacle. Explore the contours of the Green Monster by hovering over the image, offering a glimpse into the multifaceted nature of this celestial event.


Chandra’s discerning gaze exposes the intricate dynamics within Cassiopeia A (Cas A), unveiling hot gas composed mainly of supernova debris rich in elements like silicon and iron. The outer reaches of Cas A showcase the expanding blast wave colliding with pre-explosion ejected gas from the star, inducing X-ray emission. Energetic electrons, spiraling along magnetic field lines in the blast wave, create luminous arcs both in the outer regions and parts of the interior. James Webb Space Telescope complements this revelation by highlighting infrared emission from dust, warmed by embedding in the hot gas observed by Chandra, as well as from cooler supernova remnants. Hubble’s contribution offers a glimpse of stars in the cosmic neighborhood.


A complementary graphic, utilizing color-coded Chandra imagery, further delineates the cosmic spectacle. Red signifies low X-ray energy emissions from iron and magnesium, green represents intermediate X-ray energies from silicon, and blue showcases the highest energy X-rays originating from electrons spiraling around magnetic field lines. The graphic intricately outlines the distinctive features, including the enigmatic “Green Monster,” while labeling locations of the blast wave and debris rich in silicon and iron. This comprehensive exploration provides a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay of elements and forces within the captivating remnants of Cas A.


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Through meticulous analysis, researchers discovered that filaments in the outer regions of Cassiopeia A (Cas A), originating from the blast wave, closely align with the X-ray characteristics of the enigmatic “Green Monster.” The color-coded Chandra image vividly illustrates this connection, revealing that the hues within the Green Monster’s outline align more with the blast wave than the supernova debris rich in iron and silicon. This leads to the conclusion that the Green Monster emerged as a result of the blast wave from the exploded star colliding with its surrounding material, corroborating earlier insights derived solely from Webb data.


The supernova debris, observed by Chandra, is heated to tens of millions of degrees by shock waves, akin to sonic booms from a supersonic plane. In contrast, James Webb Space Telescope captures “pristine” debris—material unaffected by shock waves. To deepen their understanding of the supernova explosion, the research team compared Webb’s view of pristine debris with X-ray maps of radioactive elements produced during the supernova.


Utilizing NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) data, they mapped radioactive titanium, still visible today, and used Chandra to map the locations of radioactive nickel by measuring the distribution of iron. An additional image vividly depicts the iron-rich debris (tracing the location of radioactive nickel) in green, radioactive titanium in blue, and the pristine debris in orange and yellow, unveiling the intricate aftermath of Cas A’s dramatic cosmic event.


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Recent observations presented by Dan Milisavljevic from Purdue University at the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society shed light on the intricate connections within the remnants of Cassiopeia A (Cas A). Filaments of pristine debris near the center, as revealed by James Webb Space Telescope, are intricately linked to iron observed with Chandra in the outer regions. The presence of radioactive titanium, coinciding with areas of weaker pristine debris, suggests a significant role in shaping these regions. The fine structures within the pristine debris likely originated during the star’s cataclysmic collapse, where its inner layers violently mixed with hot, radioactive matter produced at the core’s gravitational collapse.


These findings are detailed in two papers submitted to Astrophysical Journal Letters, with one led by Milisavljevic focusing on the Webb results and another led by Jacco Vink of the University of Amsterdam concentrating on the Chandra outcomes. The collaborative efforts of researchers from various institutions contribute to a deeper understanding of the aftermath of Cas A’s explosive demise, with related papers by additional team members currently in preparation. The Chandra X-ray Center, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, oversees science operations and flight activities from Cambridge and Burlington, Massachusetts, respectively.


The James Webb Space Telescope stands as the forefront of space science observatories, unravelling mysteries within our solar system, exploring distant exoplanets, and delving into the enigmatic structures and origins of the universe. Led by NASA in collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency, Webb represents a global effort to expand our cosmic understanding.


On a different mission front, NuSTAR, a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, plays a crucial role in high-energy astrophysics. Developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), NuSTAR’s spacecraft was constructed by Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. Its mission operations center is situated at the University of California, Berkeley, and the official data archive is hosted at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. ASI contributes the mission’s ground station and a mirror data archive, while Caltech oversees JPL for NASA, showcasing collaborative efforts in advancing our understanding of the cosmos.

The first time, data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray and Webb telescope have been combined to study the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A).

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