Astronomy:Cassiopeia A

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Short description: Supernova remnant in the constellation Cassiopeia
Cassiopeia A
Cassiopeia A Spitzer Crop.jpg
A false color image composed of data from three sources: Red is infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, gold is visible data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and blue and green are data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The small, bright, baby-blue dot just off-center is the remnant of the star's core.
Spectral classIIb[1]
Right ascension23h 23m 24s
Declination+58° 48.9′
Galactic coordinates111.734745°, −02.129570°
Distance11,000 ly (3.4 kpc)[2]
HostMilky Way
Progenitor typeunknown
Colour (B-V)unknown
Notable featuresStrongest radio source beyond our solar system
Peak apparent magnitude6?
Preceded bySN 1604
Followed byG1.9+0.3 (unobserved, c. 1868), SN 1885A (next observed)

Cassiopeia A (Cas A) (About this soundlisten) is a supernova remnant (SNR) in the constellation Cassiopeia and the brightest extrasolar radio source in the sky at frequencies above 1 GHz. The supernova occurred approximately 11,000 light-years (3.4 kpc) away within the Milky Way;[2][3] given the width of the Orion Arm it is placed in the next-nearest arm outwards, the Perseus Arm, about 30 degrees from the Galactic anticenter. The expanding cloud of material left over from the supernova now appears approximately 10 light-years (3 pc) across from Earth's perspective. In wavelengths of visible light, it has been seen with amateur telescopes down to 234 mm (9.25 in) with filters.[4]

It is estimated that light from the stellar explosion (supernova) itself first reached Earth near to the decade of the 1690s, from which time there are no definitively corresponding records. Cas A is circumpolar at and above mid-Northern latitudes which had extensive records and basic telescopes. Its likely omission in records is probably due to interstellar dust absorbing optical wavelength radiation before it reached Earth (although it is possible that it was recorded as a sixth magnitude star 3 Cassiopeiae by John Flamsteed on 16 August 1680[5]). Possible explanations lean toward the idea that the source star was unusually massive and had previously ejected much of its outer layers. These outer layers would have cloaked the star and re-absorbed much of the light released as the inner star collapsed.

Cas A was among the first discrete astronomical radio sources found. Its discovery was reported in 1948 by Martin Ryle and Francis Graham-Smith, astronomers at Cambridge, based on observations with the Long Michelson Interferometer.[6] The optical component was first identified in 1950.[7] Cas A is 3C461 in the Third Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources and G111.7-2.1 in the Green Catalog of Supernova Remnants.

Earlier discovery

Calculations working back from the currently observed expansion point to an explosion that would have become visible on Earth around 1667. Astronomer William Ashworth and others have suggested that the Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed may have inadvertently observed the supernova on 16 August 1680, when he catalogued a star near its position. Another suggestion from recent cross-disciplinary research is that the supernova was the "noon day star", observed in 1630, that was thought to have heralded the birth of Charles II, the future monarch of Great Britain.[8] At any rate, no supernova occurring within the Milky Way has been visible to the naked eye from Earth since.


The expansion shell has a temperature of around 30 million K, and is expanding at 4000−6000 km/s.[2]

Observations of the exploded star through the Hubble Space Telescope have shown that, despite the original belief that the remnants were expanding in a uniform manner, there are high velocity outlying eject knots moving with transverse velocities of 5,500−14,500 km/s with the highest speeds occurring in two nearly opposing jets.[2] When the view of the expanding star uses colors to differentiate materials of different chemical compositions, it shows that similar materials often remain gathered together in the remnants of the explosion.[3]

Radio source

Cas A had a flux density of 2720 ± 50 Jy at 1 GHz in 1980.[9] Because the supernova remnant is cooling, its flux density is decreasing. At 1 GHz, its flux density is decreasing at a rate of 0.97 ± 0.04 percent per year.[9] This decrease means that, at frequencies below 1 GHz, Cas A is now less intense than Cygnus A. Cas A is still the brightest extrasolar radio source in the sky at frequencies above 1 GHz.

X-ray source

In 1999, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory found CXOU J232327.8+584842,[10] a "hot point-like source" close to the center of the nebula that is the neutron star remnant left by the explosion.[11]

Although Cas X-1 (or Cas XR-1), the apparent first X-ray source in the constellation Cassiopeia was not detected during the 16 June 1964, Aerobee sounding rocket flight, it was considered as a possible source.[12] Cas A was scanned during another Aerobee rocket flight of 1 October 1964, but no significant X-ray flux above background was associated with the position.[13] Cas XR-1 was discovered by an Aerobee rocket flight on 25 April 1965,[14] at RA  23h 21m Dec +58° 30′.[15] Cas X-1 is Cas A, a Type II SNR at RA  23h 18m Dec +58° 30′.[16] The designations Cassiopeia X-1, Cas XR-1, Cas X-1 are no longer used, but the X-ray source is Cas A (SNR G111.7-02.1) at 2U 2321+58.

Supernova reflected echo

The infrared echo caused by the Cassiopeia A supernova seen by Spitzer. The image was processed in a way that the infrared echo appears colored while dust clouds remain grey.

In 2005 an infrared echo of the Cassiopeia A explosion was observed on nearby gas clouds using Spitzer Space Telescope.[17] The infrared echo was also seen by IRAS and studied with the Infrared Spectrograph. Previously it was suspected that a flare in 1950 from a central pulsar could be responsible for the infrared echo. With the new data it was concluded that this is unlikely the case and that the infrared echo was caused by thermal emission by dust, which was heated by the radiative output of the supernova during the shock breakout.[18] The infrared echo is accompanied by a scattered light echo. The recorded spectrum of the optical light echo proved the supernova was of Type IIb, meaning it resulted from the internal collapse and violent explosion of a massive star, most probably a red supergiant with a helium core which had lost almost all of its hydrogen envelope. This was the first observation of the light echo of a supernova whose explosion had not been directly observed which opens up the possibility of studying and reconstructing past astronomical events.[1][7] In 2011 a study used spectra from different positions of the light echo to confirm that the Cassiopeia A supernova was asymmetric.[19]

Phosphorus detection

In 2013, astronomers detected phosphorus in Cassiopeia A, which confirmed that this element is produced in supernovae through supernova nucleosynthesis. The phosphorus-to-iron ratio in material from the supernova remnant could be up to 100 times higher than in the Milky Way in general.[20]


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Krause, Oliver; Birkmann; Usuda et al. (2008). "The Cassiopeia A supernova was of Type IIb". Science 320 (5880): 1195–1197. doi:10.1126/science.1155788. PMID 18511684. Bibcode2008Sci...320.1195K. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Fesen, Robert A.; Hammell, Molly C.; Morse, Jon; Chevalier, Roger A.; Borkowski, Kazimierz J.; Dopita, Michael A.; Gerardy, Christopher L.; Lawrence, Stephen S. et al. (July 2006). "The expansion asymmetry and age of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant". The Astrophysical Journal 645 (1): 283–292. doi:10.1086/504254. Bibcode2006ApJ...645..283F. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stover, Dawn (2006). "Life in a bubble". Popular Science 269 (6): 16. 
  4. Banich, Howard (December 2014). "A visual guide to the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant". Sky & Telescope. 
  5. Hughes, D.W. (1980). "Did Flamsteed see the Cassiopeia A supernova?". Nature 285 (5761): 132–133. doi:10.1038/285132a0. Bibcode1980Natur.285..132H. 
  6. Ryle, M.; Smith, F. G. (September 18, 1948). "A new intense source of radio-frequency radiation in the constellation of Cassiopeia". Nature 162 (4116): 462–463. doi:10.1038/162462a0. Bibcode1948Natur.162..462R. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fabian, Andrew C. (2008). "A blast from the past". Science 320 (5880): 1167–1168. doi:10.1126/science.1158538. PMID 18511676. 
  8. Oullette, Jennifer. "Did supernova herald the birth of a king?". 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Baars, J.W.M.; Genzel, R.; Pauliny-Toth, I.I.K.; Witzel, A. (1977). "The absolute spectrum of Cas A; an accurate flux density scale and a set of secondary calibrators". Astronomy and Astrophysics 61: 99. Bibcode1977A&A....61...99B. 
  10. "CXOU J232327.8+584842". SIMBAD. Centre de données astronomiques de Strasbourg. 
  11. Elshamouty, K.G.; Heinke, C.O.; Sivakoff, G.R.; Ho, W.C.G.; Shternin, P.S.; Yakovlev, D.G.; Patnaude, D.J.; David, L. (2013). "Measuring the cooling of the neutron star in Cassiopeia A with all Chandra X-Ray Observatory detectors". Astrophysical Journal 777 (1): 22. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/777/1/22. Bibcode2013ApJ...777...22E. 
  12. Steinberg JL, ed (1965). "Observational results of X-ray astronomy". Astronomical Observations from Space Vehicles, Proceedings from Symposium No. 23 Held in Liege, Belgium, 17 to 20 August 1964. 23. International Astronomical Union. 227–239. Bibcode1965IAUS...23..227B. 
  13. "Observations of cosmic X-rays". Astrophysical Journal 143: 203–17. 1966. doi:10.1086/148491. Bibcode1966ApJ...143..203F. 
  14. "Cosmic X-ray sources, galactic and extragalactic". Science 152 (3718): 66–71. Apr 1966. doi:10.1126/science.152.3718.66. PMID 17830233. Bibcode1966Sci...152...66B. 
  15. "Distribution and variability of cosmic X-ray sources". Science 156 (3773): 374–8. April 1967. doi:10.1126/science.156.3773.374. PMID 17812381. Bibcode1967Sci...156..374F. 
  16. Webber, W.R. (December 1968). "X-ray astronomy-1968 vintage". Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of Australia 1 (4): 160–164. doi:10.1017/S1323358000011231. Bibcode1968PASA....1..160W. 
  17. Krause, Oliver; Rieke, George H.; Birkmann, Stephan M.; Le Floc'h, Emeric; Gordon, Karl D.; Egami, Eiichi; Bieging, John; Hughes, John P. et al. (June 2005). "Infrared Echoes near the Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A" (in en). Science 308 (5728): 1604–1606. doi:10.1126/science.1112035. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 15947181. Bibcode2005Sci...308.1604K. 
  18. Dwek, Eli; Arendt, Richard G. (October 2008). "Infrared Echoes Reveal the Shock Breakout of the Cas A Supernova" (in en). Astrophysical Journal 685 (2): 976–987. doi:10.1086/589988. ISSN 0004-637X. Bibcode2008ApJ...685..976D. 
  19. Rest, A.; Foley, R. J.; Sinnott, B.; Welch, D. L.; Badenes, C.; Filippenko, A. V.; Bergmann, M.; Bhatti, W. A. et al. (May 2011). "Direct Confirmation of the Asymmetry of the Cas A Supernova with Light Echoes" (in en). Astrophysical Journal 732 (1): 3. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/732/1/3. ISSN 0004-637X. Bibcode2011ApJ...732....3R. 
  20. Koo, B.-C.; Lee, Y.-H.; Moon, D.-S.; Yoon, S.-C.; Raymond, J.C. (2013). "Phosphorus in the young supernova remnant Cassiopeia A". Science 342 (6164): 1346–1348. doi:10.1126/science.1243823. PMID 24337291. Bibcode2013Sci...342.1346K. 

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