SN 2014 C: How it Started & How it’s Going

May 4, 2022 | Daily Space, Supernovae, Supernovae Remnants

IMAGE: The supernova known as 2014C took place eight years ago—but scientists are still watching and learning from its aftermath. The very faintly visible explosion is shown circled in red. CREDIT: Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Lately, I’ve been seeing a new rash of photos showing how folks have aged as the hashtag #firstheadshot gains steam. These images give a chance to see just how brightly folks shone when they were young. They help train machine learning algorithms to better identify people – you knew you were donating training data, didn’t you? – and these images give us a chance to better understand how aging in different environments can really have an impact.

In the latest issue of The Astrophysical Journal, the supernova remnant 2014 C gets in on the game, and in a new paper led by Benjamin Thomas, researchers show us how this one grand system has changed over the years.

Back in 2014, a bright splot was spotted near the central region of the galaxy NGC 7331. Over the first 500 days after the initial explosion, the system was watched in every wavelength of light. This wasn’t just a regular massive star going boom one day; this was a massive star in a binary system that had its outer layers of hydrogen torn away by its companion until one day its core was out of fuel and its outer layers were a glimmer of their past glory. On that day, the star exploded.

The explosion was initially classified as a type Ia supernova – the type of supernova that occurs when a white dwarf star sucks too much material off a companion and gets so massive that it is unstable. This misidentification had the who-stole-mass-from-whom completely backward, and it was only 127 days after the explosion that the chemistry of the blast revealed its weird, true origin.

Astronomers are bomb investigators. We just work with really big thermonuclear bombs.

Over time, things only got weirder. The system emitted more X-rays, while the optical light stayed constant. Over more time and with more telescopes, it was found that X-ray light and the cooler light of infrared and radio emission all increased and then decreased. This bizarre phenomenon isn’t natural to a supernova but can be created as its light and energy blast surrounding material and echoes in interesting ways.

In this paper, the research team proposes that the star system had shed material earlier in its evolution and left behind a ring of material, like my shedding dogs might leave behind a ring of fur. As the explosion expanded, the shockwave hit this material, and the energy produced the glow we see in optical light while the radio emission came from parts of the shockwave that avoided the inner ring of material and interacted with material farther out.

What’s particularly cool is that they were able to map out the velocities of gases around the system at different temperatures, mapping out loosely where the slowdowns and clear traffic can be found. The paper is a really good read, and if you are a chemistry junky that can dig into doppler shifted gases, go give it a read. We have it linked on our website, DailySpace.org

For the rest of you, it’s enough to know that if you want to escape a supernova quickly, it is best to steer as far away from a surrounding ring of material as possible, and there are going to be a whole lot of folks watching that heated pile-up at the ring even seven years later.

More Information

University of Chicago press release

“Seven Years of SN 2014C: a Multi-Wavelength Synthesis of an Extraordinary Supernova,” Benjamin P. Thomas et al., to be published in The Astrophysical Journal (preprint on arxiv.org)

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