Supernova remnants are beautiful astronomical objects that are also of high scientific interest, because they provide insights into supernova explosion mechanisms, and because they are the likely sources of Galactic cosmic rays. X-ray observations are an important means to study these objects. And in particular the advances made in X-ray imaging spectroscopy over the last two decades has greatly increased our knowledge about supernova remnants. It has made it possible to map the products of fresh nucleosynthesis, and resulted in the identification of regions near shock fronts that emit X-ray synchrotron radiation. Since X-ray synchrotron radiation requires 10-100 TeV electrons, which lose their energies rapidly, the study of X-ray synchrotron radiation has revealed those regions where active and rapid particle acceleration is taking place. In this text all the relevant aspects of X-ray emission from supernova remnants are reviewed and put into the context of supernova explosion properties and the physics and evolution of supernova remnants. The first half of this review has a more tutorial style and discusses the basics of supernova remnant physics and X-ray spectroscopy of the hot plasmas they contain. This includes hydrodynamics, shock heating, thermal conduction, radiation processes, non-equilibrium ionization, He-like ion triplet lines, and cosmic ray acceleration. The second half offers a review of the advances made in field of X-ray spectroscopy of supernova remnants during the last 15 year. This period coincides with the availability of X-ray imaging spectrometers. In addition, I discuss the results of high resolution X-ray spectroscopy with the Chandra and XMM-Newton gratings. Although these instruments are not ideal for studying extended sources, they nevertheless provided interesting results for a limited number of remnants. These results provide a glimpse of what may be achieved with future microcalorimeters that will be available on board future X-ray observatories. In discussing the results of the last 15 years I have chosen to discuss a few topics that are of particular interest. These include the properties of Type Ia supernova remnants, which appear to be regularly shaped and have stratified ejecta, in contrast to core collapse supernova remnants, which have patchy ejecta distributions. For core collapse supernova remnants I discuss the spatial distribution of fresh nucleosynthesis products, but also their properties in connection to the neutron stars they contain. For the mature supernova remnants I focus on the prototypal supernova remnants Vela and the Cygnus Loop. And I discuss the interesting class of mixed-morphology remnants. Many of these mature supernova remnants contain still plasma with enhanced ejecta abundances. Over the last five years it has also become clear that many mixed-morphology remnants contain plasma that is overionized. This is in contrast to most other supernova remnants, which contain underionized plasmas. This text ends with a review of X-ray synchrotron radiation from shock regions, which has made it clear that some form of magnetic-field amplification is operating near shocks, and is an indication of efficient cosmic-ray acceleration.
Astronomy and Astrophysics Review
- Pub Date:
- December 2012
- Supernova remnants;
- Cosmic rays;
- Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena
- Published in Astronomy and Astrophysics Reviews. This version has 2 column-layout. 78 pages, 42 figures. This replaced version has some minor language edits and several references have been corrected