X-ray emissions from the Kepler supernova remnant as observed by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. Image: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas at Arlington/M. Millard et al.
The Apollo astronauts set the human speed record, leaving Earth orbit on flights to the moon at some 10,800 metres per second (24,000 mph). But astronauts would have to fly more than 900 times faster to equal velocities measured in the Kepler supernova remnant where knots of debris are racing through space at up to 37 million kph (23 million mph).
The extremely high speeds measured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are even more remarkable considering the Type 1a supernova in question, 20,000 light years away, became naked-eye visible in Earth’s sky nearly four centuries ago.
A team led by Matthew Millard at the University of Texas at Arlington tracked the movement of 15 small knots of debris in the Kepler supernova remnant by analysing recent Chandra X-ray spectra and combining those results with data collected in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2014.
The fastest knot was moving at 37 million kph while the average is about 8.7 million kph. The team used the Doppler effect to measure the speed of each knot with respect to the ...