An extremely bright supernova which was found only about six weeks ago in a neighboring galaxy has caused new questions to pop up about the scorching stars that astronomers use as their chief means in calculating the universe because it has reportedly been acting very strangely. The supernova was named SN 2014J and it was first discovered by a professor and some of his students back in January of this year.
The group first saw it about seven days after the cosmological explosion first became observable as a pinhole of light inside its own galaxy, M82. That is almost 11.5 million light years away from Earth and is located within the Big Dipper constellation. It is still viewable now through small telescopes because it was the brightest supernova seen from Earth since the year 1987. That was when the supernova SN1987A was visible and that has been close to 30 years ago. This newest star burst is a Type Ia supernova, which is the type used to measure galactic distances and it is the first of this kind in almost 80 years to be seen.
When California astronomer Alex Filippenko and his research group began looking for the supernova in information that was collected by the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope at an observatory near San Jose, California, they found out that the telescope had in reality taken a picture of the supernova over 36 hours after it appeared undetected on Jan. 14.
Joining this sighting with another accidental observation that was done by an amateur astronomer from Japan, Filippenko’s group was able to see that this newest supernova had strange characteristics. It got brighter much faster than was predicted for this type of supernova and, even more fascinating, it displayed the very same unanticipated, fast brightening as another supernova that was captured on film last year, the SN 2013dy.
So now astronomers have seen out of three, the two latest and best observed Type Ia supernovae acting strangely. They have given scientists new clues about how stars explode, stated Filippenko. The third supernova he was speaking of, referring to an outwardly normal Type Ia supernova, the SN 2011fe, which was first seen three years ago. Such findings could be showing that the normal behavior of Type Ia supernovae is not what astronomers use to believe. Maybe what astronomers think is regular behavior for such stars is actually rare, and this strange behavior is what is really normal.
Astronomers began to notice many years ago that Type Ia supernovae blew up with around equal brightness, no matter where they were in the universe. This made them good for judging cosmic distance. In the 1990’s, two astronomy teams used Type Ia supernovae to figure out the vast expanses to galaxies, linked distance with velocity and also found out the universe was expanding faster and faster, instead of slowing down as was believed at the time.
While the new discoveries do not oppose these results, enhancements in understanding the Type Ia supernovae may help advance distance measurements and help lead to even more detailed calculations of the growth rate of the universe. It could also set limitations on the nature of what “dark energy” is. All scientists know about it is that it is a mysterious energy which makes up nearly 70 percent of the universe and is believed to be the reason for its acceleration.
A Type Ia supernova is believed to be the blowing up of a white dwarf. This is a very dense and old star that has shriveled down from about the size of the Sun to the dimension of Earth. When a white dwarf has a planetary companion, it might sometimes get matter from that neighbor until the white dwarf come to be unstable. It then ends up totally annihilating itself through a colossal nuclear blast.
By getting early observations of supernovae help to give astronomers the most correct views on what the star’s behavior was actually like in the very beginning of the explosion, instead of just relying on hypothetical speculation, explained Filippenko. The supernova which was found only about six weeks ago in a neighboring galaxy has caused new questions to pop up about the scorching stars that astronomers use as their chief means in calculating the universe because it has reportedly been acting very strangely.
By Kimberly Ruble