Science and Tech


Advanced Telescope Lets NASA See Inside Supernovas

The new technology is cluing in scientists to a radioactive element fueling the universe's biggest explosions.
Posted at 6:07 PM, Feb 20, 2014

Another day, another mystery of the universe solved. Using a new telescope, NASA says it now knows the inside story on the explosions of supernovas. (Via Nature)

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR for short, shows that a cocktail of radioactive gases and elements literally "sloshes" around the belly of a star before it explodes, kind of like bubbles rising in boiling water. (Via NASA)

The state-of-the-art telescope, developed by NASA and the California Institute of Technology, looked at the ever-expanding remnants of Cassiopeia A, a star that went supernova 11,000 years ago.

Scientists were struggling to understand why computer simulations of supernova explosions sometimes didn't play out like the real thing. What they found was a previously invisible element, titanium-44, powering it all, thrilling NASA astrophysicist Paul Hertz.

"This is why we built NuSTAR, to discover things we never knew - and did not expect - about the high-energy universe." (Via California Institute of Technology)

It's the satellite telescope's biggest discovery since it launched in mid-2012, and NASA says the results were unlike anything they had predicted.

"This is actually a very good reason why you build instruments and try to go into new energy bands, to get new discovery space, you have things that you didn't expect to see before." (Via NASA)

The discovery could help scientists finally nail down the supernova — an essential ingredient to life in the universe. When a star explodes, it creates elements such as gold, calcium and others by fusion.

And according to the Los Angeles Times, "Without dead stars, the universe would probably still be made of just hydrogen and helium gas."

Next up for NASA and NuSTAR? Exploring supermassive black holes.