Kepler supernova exploded 400 years ago but hasn’t slowed down — and two pieces of debris are headed towards Earth

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Kepler supernova exploded 400 years ago but hasn’t slowed down — and two pieces of debris are headed towards Earth
An x-ray image of the Kepler supernova remnant Chandra Observatory
  • Kepler went supernova — died in the biggest explosion known to humans — over 400 years ago but the resulting blast wave hasn’t slowed down since.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been tracking 15 knots — pieces of debris — and two of them are headed for Earth.
  • The fastest piece of debris is travelling at 37 million kilometres per hour, 20,000 faster than the speed of sound.
The star known as Kepler exploded in a fiery supernova over four centuries ago, but the resulting blast wave — along with pieces of debris — is still travelling through outer space at the fastest speeds known to man. And, some of it, is headed towards Earth.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( NASA) has its eye on 15 pieces of debris from the Kepler supernova. Eight of those pieces are definitely headed away from Earth, five have no definitive direction but two are coming towards the planet.


The good news is that even though the remnants are within the Milky Way Galaxy, they’re still a massive 20,000 light-years away from Earth. So, despite their fast speeds, it will be a while before they pose a serious threat to the planet.
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The Kepler supernova’s blast wave shows no signs of slowing down
The Kepler star explosion was first spotted by Johannes Kepler in 1604. The US space agency has been tracking the Kepler supernova remnant for a while now and, even though 400 years have passed, the debris from the explosion shows no signs of slowing down.

Kepler supernova exploded 400 years ago but hasn’t slowed down — and two pieces of debris are headed towards Earth
Kepler supernova remanent caught on camera by three of the most advanced telescopesChandraObservatory

The pieces are travelling at an average speed of 16 million kilometres an hour — that’s over 10,000 times faster than the speed of sound. Such high speeds are normally seen in a supernova within days or weeks of the explosion before a remnant gets the chance to form, not after centuries have gone by.

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Kepler supernova exploded 400 years ago but hasn’t slowed down — and two pieces of debris are headed towards Earth
Kepler supernova remnant located in the Milky Way Galaxy, around 20,000 light years away from EarthChandra Observatory

Among the 15 pieces that NASA is tracking, the fastest one was recorded shooting across the universe at over double the speed — 37 million kilometres an hour. This is the highest speed ever recorded of supernova remnant debris in X-rays, according to the space agency.

Why is the Kepler supernova remnant moving so fast?
Despite multiple observations, scientists have been unable to decipher the exact reason for the high speeds. Some suggest that it is because the Kepler supernova remnant is an unusually bright Type Ia. This is when a small dense star, known as a white dwarf, exceeds a critical mass limit after interacting with a companion star. This creates a thermonuclear explosion that shatters the white dwarf and launches its remains outward.

The other explanation is the immediate environment around the Kepler supernova remnant is ‘clumpy’. This could allow the debris to tunnel through areas where the density is low and avoid deceleration.
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