Science Current Events | Science News | Brightsurf.com
 

Scientists publish new findings about the 'supernova of a generation'

December 15, 2011

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) -- An international team of scientists, including astrophysicists from UC Santa Barbara, has discovered that a supernova that exploded in August -- dubbed the supernova of a generation -- was a "white dwarf" star, and that its companion star could not have been a "red giant," as previously suspected. The findings are published in two papers in the journal Nature this week.

White dwarf stars are small but very dense stars, and red giants are stars that swell to massive proportions when they approach middle age.

The new "type Ia" thermonuclear supernova, known as PTF 11kly, exploded on August 24th in the Pinwheel galaxy, located in the "Big Dipper," also known as Ursa Major. These supernovae are used to measure dark energy, which scientists believe is related to the expansion of the universe. The discovery of the supernova was made by an international team of astronomers known as the Palomar Transient Factory.

Located 21 million light-years away, this supernova was practically next door, in cosmic terms, and could be seen in early September with binoculars. The explosion gave scientists their best chance yet to study a thermonuclear supernova up close, with modern instruments.

Over the past 50 years, astrophysicists have discovered that type Ia supernovae are part of binary systems -- two stars orbiting each other. The one that exploded was theorized to be a white dwarf star. "That's what our sun will be at the end of its life," said Andy Howell, a member of the UCSB team. "It will have the mass of the sun crammed into the size of the Earth." Howell is a staff scientist at the UCSB-affiliated Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network LCOGT, an assistant adjunct professor of physics at UCSB, and co-author of both papers.

Scientists are upbeat about the finding that the supernova is a white dwarf. "It's been nearly 50 years since the original theoretical suggestions were made that these supernovae were caused by white dwarfs," said co-author Lars Bildsten. "The observational proof is very satisfying to see!" Bildsten is a permanent member of UCSB's Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics (KITP) and is UCSB's Wayne Rosing, Simon and Diana Raab Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics.

Such white dwarf stars would normally be dead forever, slowly cooling and freezing solid over cosmic time. However, if it has a companion star, then the white dwarf can steal its matter, and return to life. If they steal too much matter, the carbon atoms will fuse so rapidly that the burning cannot be stopped, leading to an explosion as a Type Ia supernova.

That has long been the leading theory, although proof has remained elusive for decades. One of the papers shows that the exploding star had to be smaller than a tenth of the radius of the sun. That rules out normal stars, and for the first time provides direct evidence that white dwarfs are responsible for Type Ia supernovae. The lead author is Peter Nugent, who discovered the supernova, and is a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley.

Scientists have not yet ascertained the type of the companion star to the white-dwarf-turned supernova. However, they have ruled out the type of star they expected -- a red giant. Previous studies of RS Ophiuci, a binary star system in our own Milky Way galaxy that is similar to the one being studied, has a white dwarf near the limit that will cause it to explode. And, it is being fed by a companion red giant star. So scientists were somewhat surprised that they did not find a red giant next to the supernova that exploded in August.

A second paper regarding the companion star to the white dwarf was led by Weidong Li, a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. He explained: "This is the first time through direct imaging of the explosion site, we were able to rule out certain types of stars as the companion to a Type Ia supernova. The second star couldn't have been a massive red giant."

After decades of hunting the origins of Type Ia supernovae, scientists were finally able to make progress in this case for two reasons. In the case of the Li paper, it is because this was the closest thermonuclear supernova since sensitive modern instruments, like those on the Hubble Space Telescope, have been available.

In the Nugent paper, while closeness was necessary, another factor was even more important -- the speed of the discovery. The team discovered the supernova only 11 hours after it exploded, allowing for the first estimate of the size of the star when it blew up. "Not only is this the closest Type Ia supernova in the last 25 years, it is the youngest and brightest ever discovered in the digital age," said Nugent. "Observations with ground- and space-based telescopes from the radio through X-ray wavelengths have provided unprecedented constraints on how the supernova exploded."

The scientists noted that these rapid observations were not due to luck; they were possible because the Palomar 48-inch telescope, which was used to discover the supernova, is effectively a robot. Given regions of the sky to scan, Palomar 48 observes all night long without a human driving it. The data are then automatically processed by computers, and new potential supernovae are presented to the discovery team when they wake up.

In fact, LCOGT is building a global network of telescopes to take this idea to the next level. "If you have telescopes spread out in longitude, it is always dark somewhere, so you can observe targets around the clock," said Howell. "We like to say that the sun will never rise on the LCOGT empire."

LCOGT already has telescopes in Haleakala, Hawaii, and Siding Spring, Australia, as well as at the Sedgwick reserve near Santa Ynez, Calif. In 2012 it will expand to Texas, Chile, and South Africa. Last August, astronomers at LCOGT were able to use the fledgling network to monitor the brightness of the supernova as it rose in the weeks after explosion.

To add to the robotic data, B.J. Fulton, a recent UCSB graduate and astronomer at LCOGT, remotely controlled the 0.8-meter Byrne Observatory Telescope at the Sedgwick Reserve from his home in Santa Barbara 35 miles away. "As soon as I got word of the young supernova from the PTF collaboration I knew that this was a rare opportunity," said Fulton. "I immediately slewed the telescope to M101 and monitored the supernova nearly every night for the next two months. We're still in the process of automating the Sedgwick telescope, so I operated it remotely, but in the future observations like this will happen automatically, as they did at our telescope in Hawaii."

When the supernova reached its peak brightness, Fulton used the Byrne Observatory to take a series of shots, which he composed to make an image that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is scientifically useful. "This is the supermodel of supernovae," said Howell. "The image B.J. created of SN 2011fe is the most beautiful image ever of a thermonuclear supernova and its host galaxy. And the fact that he did it with a modest 0.8-meter telescope is incredible. The previous poster child for type Ia supernovae, SN 1994D, was obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope. This image will be in all the textbooks."

Aside from Bildsten, Fulton, and Howell, other Santa Barbara contributors to the findings include Federica Bianco, Benjamin Dilday, Melissa Graham, and David Sand with UCSB and LCOGT; and Jerod Parrent with LCOGT.

The Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) is based on the 48-inch Oschin Schmidt telescope and the 60-inch telescope of the Palomar Observatory of the California Institute of Technology, and is a collaboration among California Institute of Technology; Columbia University; LCOGT; Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory; Oxford University; University of California, Berkeley; and the Weizmann Institute for Science.

The Nature articles follow on the heels of the December 10 presentation of the Nobel Prize in physics to three astrophysicists. This Nobel Prize recognized the scientists for the discovery that the universe is accelerating its expansion, a finding that they made using type Ia supernovae as a measuring tool, as "standard candles."

University of California - Santa Barbara


Related Supernova Current Events and Supernova News Articles


A beautiful instance of stellar ornamentation
In this image from ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), light from blazing blue stars energises the gas left over from the stars' recent formation.

Proof that ancient supernovae zapped Earth sparks hunt for after effects
Two new papers appearing in the journal Nature this week are "slam-dunk" evidence that energies from supernovae have buffeted our planet, according to astrophysicist Adrian Melott of the University of Kansas.

Gravitational wave search provides insights into galaxy evolution and mergers
New results from NANOGrav - the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves - establish astrophysically significant limits in the search for low-frequency gravitational waves.

Magnetar could have boosted explosion of extremely bright supernova
Calculations by scientists have found highly magnetized, rapidly spinning neutron stars called magnetars could explain the energy source behind two extremely unusual stellar explosions.

Tiny, ancient galaxy preserves record of catastrophic event
The lightest few elements in the periodic table formed minutes after the Big Bang. Heavier chemical elements are created by stars, either from nuclear fusion in their interiors or in catastrophic explosions.

Caught for the first time: The early flash of an exploding star
NASA's planet hunter, the Kepler space telescope, has captured the brilliant flash of an exploding star's shock wave--what astronomers call the "shock breakout" of a supernova--for the first time in visible light wavelengths.

Caught in the act: UW astronomers find a rare supernova 'impostor' in a nearby galaxy
Breanna Binder, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Astronomy and lecturer in the School of STEM at UW Bothell, spends her days pondering X-rays.

Examining how terrestrial life's building blocks may have first formed
How did life begin? This is one of the most fundamental questions scientists puzzle over. To address it, they have to look not just back to the primordial Earth, but out into space. Now, scientists propose in the Journal of the American Chemical Society a new set of cosmic chemical reactions that could have contributed to the formation of life on our planet.

A violent wind blown from the heart of a galaxy tells the tale of a merger
An international team led by a researcher from Hiroshima University has succeeded in revealing the detailed structure of a massive ionized gas outflow streaming from the starburst galaxy NGC 6240.

The Milky Way's clean and tidy galactic neighbor
IC 1613 is a dwarf galaxy in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster). This VST image shows the galaxy's unconventional beauty, all scattered stars and bright pink gas, in great detail.
More Supernova Current Events and Supernova News Articles

Supernova (The Lightless Trilogy)

Supernova (The Lightless Trilogy)
by C.A. Higgins (Author)


C. A. Higgins’s acclaimed novel Lightless fused suspenseful storytelling, high-caliber scientific speculation, and richly developed characters into a stunning science fiction epic. Now the dazzling Supernova heightens the thrills and deepens the haunting exploration of technology and humanity—and the consequences that await when the two intersect.

Once Ananke was an experimental military spacecraft. But a rogue computer virus transformed it—her—into something much more: a fully sentient artificial intelligence, with all the power of a god—and all the unstable emotions of a teenager.
 
Althea, the ship’s engineer and the last living human aboard, nearly gave her life to save Ananke from dangerous saboteurs, forging a bond as powerful as that between mother and...

SuperNova: Heroes of Arcania

SuperNova: Heroes of Arcania


Sometimes the villain must create the hero.
The streets of Arcania are overrun with crime, deteriorating as a madman named Fortune makes himself at home. He shows no mercy, striking down anyone in his path – including Nova Benson’s little sister. Devastated, Nova vows to seek justice for her family, but aside from her freak strength and impenetrable skin, how is she supposed to stop a monster like Fortune?

Cole Warner wants to help people. Entrusted to keep his family’s secret, he’s also frustrated at having to hide his gift. He knows he could do more to help in the fight against Fortune. If he could convince his sister Penelope to join him, they might even have a chance at beating him. When Cole meets Nova, he realizes his whole world is about to change. And...

The Supernova Advisor: Crossing the Invisible Bridge to Exceptional Client Service and Consistent Growth

The Supernova Advisor: Crossing the Invisible Bridge to Exceptional Client Service and Consistent Growth
by Rob Knapp (Author)


The Supernova Model is a client service, client acquisition, and practice management model that drives an explosive acceleration in revenue and client satisfaction by capitalizing upon the 80/20 Rule. First implemented by financial advisors at Merrill Lynch—under the leadership of author Rob Knapp—it has grown increasingly popular within the financial services industry. The Supernova Advisor skillfully outlines this proven model and reveals how it can be used to create an exceptional experience for your clients, while significantly growing your business.

Lightless (The Lightless Trilogy)

Lightless (The Lightless Trilogy)
by C.A. Higgins (Author)


NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY BUZZFEED AND KIRKUS REVIEWS • With deeply moving human drama, nail-biting suspense—and bold speculation informed by a degree in physics—C. A. Higgins spins a riveting science fiction debut guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations.
 
Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her...

Supernova (The Star-Crossed Saga)

Supernova (The Star-Crossed Saga)


The follow-up to the critically acclaimed debut YA, Sci-fi, dystopian novel Protostar, from award-winning author Braxton A. Cosby, The StarCrossed Saga is written in the spirit of The Hunger Games and the Divergent Series.

2015 Readers' Favorite Silver Medal Winner for Sci-fi Romance

WHAT YOU CHOOSE, BECOMES YOU…
Against everything he had known as truth, William has made the choice to protect Sydney from the forces seeking to destroy her. But just as these two Starcrossed lovers are beginning to explore their relationship and search for answers to the mysteries of Sydney’s existence, she advances to the next stage of her Star-child evolution—Supernova—and struggles not only to control her new powers, but also the emotions for her new love. William...

Infected: Die Like Supernovas (The Outlaw) (Volume 2)

Infected: Die Like Supernovas (The Outlaw) (Volume 2)
by Alan Janney (Author)


Winner of 2016 National Indie Excellence Award!
"Janney ratchets up every component that made the first novel in this series so compelling. ...An epic, masterly expansion of the Outlaw's world." -Kirkus Review

High school junior Chase Jackson is the infamous Outlaw, a celebrated midnight crimefighter caught in an ancient clash between order and corruption. The world only sees the mask, not the young man balancing his secret identity against love.

Rumors surface of a growing evil within Los Angeles, and powerful strangers are searching for the reclusive vigilante, whispering truths about his illness. Despite his desperate attempts for peace, the Outlaw is being drawn into war with the dangerous Infected.

Book Two of the coming-of-age, mysterious,...

1408 (Full Screen) [DVD] (2007) DVD

1408 (Full Screen) [DVD] (2007) DVD
by Unknown (Author)


Original Title: 1408 (Full Screen Edition). Actors: John Cusack - Len Cariou - Mary McCormack - Samuel L. Jackson - Tony Shalhoub. Director: Mikael Hafstrom. Format: DVD. Format Size: Fullscreen. Runtime: 104 Mins. Language: English. Subtitle: English Subtitles. Region code: Region 1 (United States, Canada, Bermuda, U.S. territories). Discs: 1. Rating: PG-13. Genre: Thriller. Release Year: 2007.

Summer of Supernovas

Summer of Supernovas
by Darcy Woods (Author)


“This sweet summer romance will have you flipping the pages all night long!” —Bustle
 
Fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Jenny Han will fall in love with this heartfelt and humor-laced debut following one zodiac-obsessed teen as she struggles to find the guy of her cosmic dreams.
 
As the daughter of an expert astrologer, Wilamena Carlisle knows that truth lies within the stars. So when she discovers a planetary alignment that won’t repeat for a decade, she’s forced to tackle her greatest astrological fear: The Fifth House—relationships and love. But Wil must decide whether to trust her heart or her chart when she falls for a sensitive guitar player whose zodiac sign points to cosmic disaster.
 
If Wil’s fate is truly written in the stars, then this...

Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the '90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion

Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the '90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion
by Maureen Callahan (Author)


A glittering history of fashion in the 1990s, told through the lives of Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander McQueen—the three iconic personalities who defined the time.

The 1950s had rock ‘n’ roll and the 60s had the Beats. In the 70s and 80s, it was punk rock and modern art. But for the 1990s, it was all about the fashion—and Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander McQueen were the trio of rebel geniuses who made it great.

Veteran style and pop culture journalist Maureen Callahan takes you back to the 90s, to the moment when supermodel glamazons gave way to heroin chic, the alternative became the mainstream, and fashion became the cradle for the most exciting artistic and cultural innovations of the age. Packed with dishy stories of some of the most celebrated...

Radical Amazement: Contemplative Lessons from Black Holes, Supernovas, and Other Wonders of the Universe

Radical Amazement: Contemplative Lessons from Black Holes, Supernovas, and Other Wonders of the Universe
by Judy Cannato (Author)


Invites us to explore the harmony of science and spirituality. This book offers a collection of practical reflections, prayers and meditations which unifies the worlds of science and religion, weaving profound spiritual lessons.

© 2016 BrightSurf.com