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The Astrophysical Journal


Ejecta knot flickering, ablation tails, and fragmentation are expected signatures associated with the gradual dissolution of high-velocity supernova (SN) ejecta caused by their passage through an inhomogeneous circumstellar medium or interstellar medium (ISM). Such phenomena mark the initial stages of the gradual merger of SN ejecta with and the enrichment of the surrounding ISM. Here we report on an investigation of this process through changes in the optical flux and morphology of several high-velocity ejecta knots located in the outskirts of the young core-collapse SN remnant Cassiopeia A using Hubble Space Telescope images. Examination of WFPC2 F675W and combined ACS F625W + F775W images taken between 1999 June and 2004 December of several dozen debris fragments in the remnant's northeast ejecta stream and along the remnant's eastern limb reveal substantial emission variations ("flickering") over timescales as short as nine months. Such widespread and rapid variability indicates knot scale lengths 1015 cm and a highly inhomogeneous surrounding medium. We also identify a small percentage of ejecta knots located all around the remnant's outer periphery which show trailing emissions typically 02-07 in length aligned along the knot's direction of motion suggestive of knot ablation tails. We discuss the nature of these trailing emissions as they pertain to ablation cooling, knot disruption, and fragmentation, and draw comparisons to the emission "strings" seen in η Car. Finally, we identify several tight clusters of small ejecta knots which resemble models of shock-induced fragmentation of larger SN ejecta knots caused by a high-velocity interaction with a lower density ambient medium.