Joseph DePasquale, Kimberly Kowal Arcand, Peter Edmonds, Kathleen Lestition, Wallace Tucker, Megan Watzke, (NASA, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Chandra X-ray Center)
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This image comes from a very deep Chandra observation of the Tycho supernova remnant, produced by the explosion of a white dwarf star in our Galaxy. Low-energy X-rays (red) in the image show expanding debris from the supernova explosion and high energy X-rays (blue) show the blast wave, a shell of extremely energetic electrons . These high-energy X-rays show a pattern of X-ray 'stripes' never previously seen in a supernova remnant and are thought to be the source of particles accelerated to cosmic ray energies. The optical, stellar background comes from the Digitized Sky Survey. The Tycho supernova remnant is named for the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who reported observing the supernova in 1572. It is located in the Milky Way, about 13,000 light years from Earth. Because of its proximity and intrinsic brightness, the supernova was so bright that it could be seen during the daytime with the naked eye.
The Chandra EPO office designs press releases for general audiences, essentially the American public
This image was designed for a Chandra press release in March, 2011. The release highlighted a publication in the Astrophysical Journal detailing the first observations of high energy cosmic ray particle acceleration from parts of the Tycho SNR blast wave detected using the Chandra Observatory. Press materials are scaffolded into different contexts (podcasts, blogs, social media, print, exhibits, etc) for our target audiences. Tycho's SNR remains in the top 10 images chosen by site visitors.
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Balancing aesthetics while conveying the intended science is a goal that I strive for in every image. The Tycho supernova remnant is a very rich dataset to work with and the specific color choices for the X-ray portion of the image lends an almost 3 dimensional quality to the image. The cool blues of the high energy X-rays provide contrast to with the warm hues of the low energy while clearly showing the X-ray stripes that are thought be the source of cosmic ray particle acceleration.
The process of cosmic ray acceleration in supernova remnants is a relatively new and very complicated phenomenon. Our press release text combined with this image does a very good job of clearly explaining a complex topic in terms the general public can relate to. The accompanying text, supporting images, and podcast videos provide a suite of communication tools to convey this message.
Although we have issued press releases on the Tycho supernova remnant in the past, this particular release announced the discovery of a never-before-seen phenomenon and presented the remnant in a bold and dramatic fashion not seen in previous images. This required a shift in thinking regarding how the X-ray data were to be processed and displayed in the final image.
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