NASA Launches New Rocket Mission to Study Sizzling Edge of Star-Forming Supernova

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) launched a new sounding rocket mission to space to better understand the star-forming supernova. The Integral Field Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Experiment, or INFUSE, sounding rocket mission, was launched on October 19 from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at 9:35 p.m. MDT. 

The stellar event occurs in the Cygnus Loop, which is a supernova remnant that took place 20,000 years ago and it is approximately 2,600 light years away from the Earth. 

The constellation Cygnus, which means swan in Latin, swoops over the night sky of the northern hemisphere for a few months every year. The Veil Nebula, also called the Cygnus Loop, is a popular object for both amateur and professional astronomers, and it is located just above its wing.

The Cygnus Loop is the surviving portion of a star that was originally 20 times larger than the Sun. That star imploded under the force of its gravity about 20,000 years ago, and it burst into a supernova. 

Supernovae are part of a vast life cycle, as they blast clouds of surrounding dust and gas with heavy metals that were formed in the center of a star.  All the chemical elements heavier than iron in our cosmos, including those found in our bodies, originate from them. 

Planets, stars, and new star systems are formed by the slow clumping of gasses and dust from supernovae combined with the churned-up clouds and stellar debris left behind.

Astronomers believe that the light burst would have been visible from Earth during the day of this incident even at 2,600 light-years away.

Speaking about this step, research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and principal investigator for the INFUSE mission, Brian Fleming, stated that the supernovae similar to the one that resulted in the Cygnus Loop have a significant impact on the formation of galaxies.

Fleming also stressed that “INFUSE will observe how the supernova dumps energy into the Milky Way by catching light given off just as the blast wave crashes into pockets of cold gas floating around the galaxy.” 

Fleming and his colleagues have created a telescope that detects far-ultraviolet light, which is too intense for human vision, to see the shock front at its cutting edge. This light shows gas that is still sizzling after impact, with temperatures ranging from 50,000 to 300,000 degrees Celsius.

The INFUSE load will fly aboard a sounding rocket into orbit. These agile, unmanned rockets take off and gather data in orbit for a short while before returning to Earth.

The INFUSE payload is scheduled to launch on a two-stage Black Brant 9-sounding rocket and reach a maximum altitude of approximately 240 kilometers. Once the INFUSE reaches the Cygnus Loop, it will conduct its observations and then descend to the ground to be recovered by parachute. The goal of the team is to launch another rocket mission after improving the instrument.

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