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Scientists make ‘out of this world’ discovery

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University of Manitoba astrophysicist Dr. Samar Safi-Harb is beaming now that her team of researchers have finally made an "out-of-this-world" breakthrough.


Safi-Harb’s team includes postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Gilles Ferrand, who lives in Osborne Village, and Dr. Anne Decourchelle from France. Their discovery was recently published in the prestigious journal Astrophysical Journal.


They have produced the first 3-D simulations of supernova remnants (SNRs) showing the effect of particle acceleration at the wave fronts generated by these powerful X-ray sources in our galaxy.


"This is innovative work done for the first time to study objects that are millions of light years away," said Safi-Harb, who lives in Whyte Ridge.


 "These simulations will help us predict what we should see from these far away objects. I am thrilled by our results. With these simulations, we are generating the first realistic synthetic maps of projected thermal X-ray emission in young SNRs."


Supernova remnants, which are among the most energetic explosions in the universe, "provide a nearby astrophysical laboratory" to study the origin of high-energy cosmic rays.


"SNRs witness the death of massive stars (more than about eight solar masses) and the birth of very compact and dense stars — neutron stars or black holes," Safi-Harb explained.


 "The remnants of the explosions leave behind the so-called supernova remnants which expand in the interstellar medium (ISM) for thousands of years, energizing it and enriching it with the heavy elements that make life on Earth essential. They also are believed to accelerate cosmic rays to the highest energies."


Safi-Harb added that the team is performing 3-D simulations of SNRs to study the effect of particles’ acceleration on these objects morphology and X-ray emission.


She noted that these "first-of-their-kind" simulations are being done by Ferrand using a state-of-the-art computing cluster located in the physics and astronomy department.


"Our research program involves the study of SNRs and associated compact objects with focus on high-energy satellite data such as NASA’s Chandra and ESA’s XMM-Newton observatories, and a Japanese-led X-ray mission slated for launch in 2014," said Safi-Harb, a Canada Research Chair in supernova astrophysics.


"The research is complemented with data at other wavelengths, especially in the radio regime, and with modelling and numerical simulations. The purpose of our research is to study the physics of SNRs and neutron stars and unveil the way these objects transfer their energies into the ISM."


 Martin Zeilig is a Winnipeg-based writer.


Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Sou’wester area and would like to contribute to this column, contact jim.timlick@canstarnews.com.

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