Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Astronomers Spot Brightest Exploding Star Yet

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Astronomers Spot Brightest Exploding Star Yet

Article excerpt

Astronomers have spotted a supernova twice as luminous as any yet observed, and at its peak 50 times brighter than the entire Milky Way.

The star, affectionately named ASAS-SN-15lh, falls into the category of super-luminous supernovae (SLSNe), exploding stars that shine 100 to 1,000 times brighter than regular supernovae.

Its location has excited astronomers just as much as its luminosity: located in an unusual kind of galaxy, the supernova could shed important light on this little-understood group of celestial superstars.

"We are continually discovering the unexpected and these discoveries sometimes force us to change both what we think can happen, and our understanding of objects we have already seen," Ben Shappee, one of the astronomers who made this latest discovery, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "Nature is extremely clever and it is often more imaginative than we can be."

Super-luminous supernovae were first discovered within the past two decades, and there is now a global network of telescopes that hunts for them every couple of nights, called the All-Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae system, the international collaboration responsible for the latest discovery.

A supernova is the largest kind of known explosion to take place in space, and one of the brightest objects ever to assail the skies.

This latest addition to the family of SLSNe was found in a relatively large calm galaxy, whereas most of its brethren make their home in smaller galaxies that are busy churning out stars.

In trying to understand the intensity of ASAS-SN-15lh, astronomers compare its characteristics to those of dimmer SLSNe poor in hydrogen.

The brightness could be explained by the presence of a magnetar, a neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field. But Dr. Shappee, part of the team that discovered ASAS-SN-15lh, is doubtful:

"The astounding amount of energy released by this supernova strains the magnetar-formation theory," he explains. …

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