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


Milky Way's center unveils supernova 'dust factory'
Sifting through the center of the Milky Way galaxy, astronomers have made the first direct observations - using an infrared telescope aboard a modified Boeing 747 - of cosmic building-block dust resulting from an ancient supernova.

More than a million stars are forming in a mysterious dusty gas cloud in a nearby galaxy
More than a million young stars are forming in a hot, dusty cloud of molecular gases in a tiny galaxy near our own, an international team of astronomers has discovered.

Time-lapse snapshots of a nova's fading light
Scientists in a collaboration led by Dai Takei of the RIKEN SPring-8 Center in Japan have, for the first time, examined a detailed 'time lapse' X-ray image of the expansion of a classical nova explosion using the GK Persei nova -- a binary star system which underwent a nova explosion in 1901.

Queen's astronomers discover fastest ever unbound star in our galaxy
A fast-moving unbound star discovered by astronomers at Queen's University Belfast has broken the galactic speed record.

Rare split images of supernova put Johns Hopkins astronomer in the spotlight
A Johns Hopkins astronomer played a key role in the recent discovery of a distant exploding star whose light split into four distinct images in a display seen for the first time by scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope.

A grand extravaganza of new stars
At the centre of the image is the open star cluster NGC 6193, containing around thirty bright stars and forming the heart of the Ara OB1 association.

NASA's Hubble discovers four images of same supernova split by cosmic lens
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have spotted for the first time a distant supernova split into four images.

Distant supernova split 4 ways by gravitational lens
Over the past several decades, astronomers have come to realize that the sky is filled with magnifying glasses that allow the study of very distant and faint objects barely visible with even the largest telescopes.

Astronomers observe 4 images of the same supernova using a cosmic lens
Astronomers have for the first time observed a supernova (an exploding star) multiply-imaged due to gravitational lensing.

Astronomers see star explode 4 times
Astronomers have glimpsed a far off and ancient star exploding, not once, but four times.
More Supernova Current Events and Supernova News Articles

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.

Exodus: Machine War: Book 1: Supernova.

Exodus: Machine War: Book 1: Supernova.
by Cat Brother Publishing


Exodus: Machine Wars: Book 1: Supernova is the launch of a new chapter in the Saga.Not all the action occurs on the main front. Space is too big for that kind of restriction.The Klassekians are a gifted race, with an ability which could help the Empire in its war against the Ca'cadasans. Just entering space, the species is still torn apart by religious and nationalistic schisms. They are on the verge of a nuclear war. And that is the least of their problems. For six light months from their star system is a blue giant, and the timer on its life is just about to hit zero.Exploration Command ships discover the civilization, and it is soon apparent that this is one that needs saving. But saving the six billion people on the planet is a daunting task, especially with a killing wave of...

Supernova

Supernova


Nick Miller lives an ordinary life in his hometown of Bakersville. That is, until he starts to notice strange occurrences that seem to be indicative of a sinister cover-up. In a few seconds, his life and the future of civilization on Earth are altered forever by a deadly burst of light from space. This is the story of one man’s struggle to survive, and his ultimate triumph in the face of a tyrannical faction.

Supernova (Supernova Saga Book 1)

Supernova (Supernova Saga Book 1)
by The Writer's Coffee Shop


5 STARS
"I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend this book. HIGHLY. I can’t say the word HIGHLY enough. Because that’s how much I loved it."
Grace, Books Like Breathing

5 STARS
"It's absolutely out of this world."
Fergie, Goodreads.com

4 STARS
"Supernova is a fun mix of genres; paranormal, romance, action, adventure, and comedy!"
Maria, To Read, Perchance to Dream


Summary of Supernova:

As part of a chosen bloodline, Kerrigan Cruz has inherited a gift: supernatural powers which give her the ability to protect a person’s free will from those who wish to alter destiny for their own design. After her grandmother’s passing, Kerrigan meets Dominic Grayson, an alluring stranger with a secret of his own. Dominic has been...

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...

Simpsons Comics Supernova

Simpsons Comics Supernova
by Matt Groening (Author)


Not even the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns can hold a candle to Simpsons Comics Supernova, the new comic collection from Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, Futurama, and the comic strip Life in Hell.Illustrated in full color, Simpsons Comics Supernova features many of the regular characters from the longest-running sitcom in television history. Explore the intimate relationship of a man and his sofa, when Homer refuses to be parted from his beloved love seat for a whole year. Then something is Huey, Dewey, Louie, and screwy when Mr. Burns takes the Simpsons on a South Seas adventure in search of lost treasure. Watch Marge eclipse the hard-nosed newscaster Kent Brockman with her eternally optimistic worldview. And when Duffman trades in his six-packs and party mobile for...

One Piece, Vol. 51: the Eleven Supernovas

One Piece, Vol. 51: the Eleven Supernovas
by Eiichiro Oda (Author), Eiichiro Oda (Illustrator)


High jinx on the high seas

Reads R to L (Japanese Style). High jinx on the high seas!!

As a child, Monkey D. Luffy dreamed of becoming the King of the Pirates, but his life changed when he accidentally gained the power to stretch like rubber…at the cost of never being able to swim again! Now Luffy, with the help of a motley collection of pirate wannabes, is setting off in search of the "One Piece," said to be the greatest treasure in the world!

The 11: Supernovas Camie the mermaid offers to take Luffy and the crew to Fish-Man Island if they'll help rescue her boss Hachi from the notorious Flying Fish Riders. Ignoring all of the warning signs (hint: her boss sounds suspiciously like an old enemy!), the crew agrees to help their mermaid friend, only to end up losing...

Supernova

Supernova
by L. B. Gold (Author)


This story is about a boy becoming a man. It is a story of wasted potential and infuriating unfairness, of uplifting love and crushing loss, of exploding stars and stifling expectations, of blinding white and hopeless black, of humanized killers and dehumanized children, of remarkable revelations and disastrous delusions. Fundamentally, though, it is about how that very story is just another thing that happened.

Supernova

Supernova


Earth is gone. Destiny awaits. Earth becomes collateral damage in a galactic war between rival royal houses. Humanity's future rests with a handful of survivors.

Supernova

Supernova
by Typhoon Media Ltd


Supernova: The Knight, The Princess and the Falling Star presents a series of intertwined and unconventional love stories, straight and gay, with a bit of science and spirituality added to the mix. The major characters are young, urban, and technologically highly aware. They are caught up in major forms of contemporary social conflict.

The work has been highly acclaimed. The poet Taufiq Ismail has written: "A renewal has taken place in Indonesian literature over the past decade. Supernova is an intelligent, unique and truly exciting exploration of science, spirituality and the nature of love." The literary critic Jacob Soemardjo suggests: "This is an attractive novel by a young writer. It is an intellectual work in the form of a work of pop art, set in the real world. It...

© 2015 BrightSurf.com