Astronomers 'excited' by supernova

2011-08-29 16:12

Cape Town - Astronomers have discovered a supernova that may help to test current theories of the universe.

Last spotted in 1972, a Type 1a supernova has been observed in the galaxy M101, about 21 million light years from Earth.

"We are very excited to get one this close," said Oxford University astronomer and Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) collaborator Mark Sullivan.

"We essentially discovered it the day it blew up."

Data from the supernova would be used to check on current theories of universe expansion and dark energy models.


"If you know what the expansion rate of the universe is, your theory would then predict how bright a supernova would appear at a certain red shift away from us," Dr Enrico Olivier of the South African Astronomical Observatory told News24.

"What has been found out is that supernovae [Type 1a] actually appear to be further away than what you'd expect in a 'normal' universe where the acceleration is slowly decreasing," he added.

Astronomers were particularly excited by the supernova because it presents an opportunity to study an object more closely than has been the case in the past.

"We know it's the youngest Type 1a ever observed," said Peter Nugent of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, who leads the Type 1a search group with PTF.

"This thing just shot up out of nowhere."

Type 1a supernovae are formed when white dwarf stars are pushed over a theoretical mass limit and are useful to astronomers because it allows them to measure distance.


"The assumption is that they all have nearly the same brightness and so we can therefore use them as distance indicators by seeing how bright they appear," said Olivier.

Observations of Type 1a supernovae in remote galaxies led to the revelation in 1998 that the expansion of the universe is speeding up over time due to the presence of dark energy, a poorly understood phenomenon.

The supernova will peak in early September and casual observers in the northern hemisphere should be able to see it with small telescopes under dark skies.

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  • HappyGoLucky - 2011-08-29 16:04

    HOLY CRAP!!! that is far!

      Bernard Hill - 2011-08-29 16:13

      That's an understatement. it is @#$@#$ far.

      PatPion - 2011-08-29 16:15

      That's actually quite close in astronomical terms.

      HappyGoLucky - 2011-08-29 16:23 comparing it to me walking to the shop though lol makes you wonder though, just how far the universe spreads to. You guys should watch this video: right at the end in particular, when the 'camera' zooms out

      JMsays - 2011-08-29 20:57

      Here my thought, with the universe being SOOOOOOO big, the odds of life somewhere else is very likely. It wasn't very nice of him to say they were excited as there are people on the place that blew up! Shame... Poor aliens...

  • Tygerr - 2011-08-29 16:16

    "We essentially discovered it the day it blew up" Erm, no, it's 21 million light years away, so you essentially discovered it 21 million years after it blew up. Good job though. I'm sure a lot of other people missed it.

  • theDriver - 2011-08-29 16:21

    "We essentially discovered it the day it blew up." --- How could that be if it's 21 million light years away?

      Epicurius - 2011-08-29 16:50

      @theDriver - you know what they meant, even though it was put across very badly.

      Jimm636 - 2011-08-29 18:04

      a light year is just short of 10 trillion kms. so 21 million light years is a long way. So light takes 1 year to travel 10 trillion kms. so 21 million times 10 trillion is the distance in km's. so the supernova happened 21000000 years ago. thats the time delay, equate it to the flash and then the bang of lightning.

  • Mad Man - 2011-08-29 16:28

    "" "We are very excited to get one this close," said Oxford University astronomer and Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) collaborator Mark Sullivan."" I am sure this guy was smoking something when he said this!!!

      Mad Man - 2011-08-29 16:36

      "" A light year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles (9,460,800,000,000 kilometers)"" We are talking about 198,676,800,000,000,000,000 Km. And he calls it close. LMAO!!!

      MrJay - 2011-08-29 17:10

      It is close in relative terms. The furthest galaxies in the visible universe are about 13 billion light years away.

  • pitbull - 2011-08-29 16:46

    We discovered it the day it blew up? That was 21 million years light years ago not Earth years.

      HappyGoLucky - 2011-08-29 16:52

      it is actually 21 000 000 earth years...a light year, is how far light travels within 1 earth year (ie: 9,460,800,000,000 kilometers - thanks Mad Man)

  • Ben - 2011-08-29 16:54

    Ok ok... he quoted it wrong...We all know it..No stop trying to be smart asses...

  • MrJay - 2011-08-29 17:07

    I doubt if the comment on red-shift is right. M101 is part of the local supercluster, and is not receding from the Milky Way, so no red-shift, surely?

      MrJay - 2011-08-29 17:09

      ...and so a supernova in M101 can't tell us anything about the expansion of the universe...

      Bontage - 2011-08-29 19:21

      However, it IS in another galaxy. Thus, as galaxies accelerate away from each other as theorised in the "expanding" version of the universe, so too should M101, thus resulting in red shift.

      Yoda - 2011-08-29 19:43

      If the universe is expanding, then the Milky Way is expanding too. A red-shift then follows, I would guess.

      Tooth Fairy - 2011-08-29 20:03

      No, the Milky Way is a galaxy and therefore a unit that is not widening. The galaxies are however, growing further apart.

      CapeTownJunk - 2011-08-29 20:42

      Using Wikipedia as an easy reference (as opposed to a primary data source), you'll see that M101 does have a slight red shift. So it is travelling away from us.

      David de Bruyn - 2011-08-29 21:12

      Even if it is part of our super cluster, it could be moving away from us. Just because its moving in the same direction as us doesn't mean its moving away.

      MrJay - 2011-08-30 10:19

      Dark energy is proportional to the distance between 2 galaxies - i.e. the further away 2 galaxies are, the faster they're moving away from each other, and the bigger the red-shift. But that's only over huge distances. When galaxies are closer, then gravity prevails over dark energy, and so "local" galaxies may have red or blue-shifts which are dependant on gravity, and not dark energy / the expansion of the universe. So measuring the red-shift from M101's supernova can tell us about it's speed relative to us, but not about the expansion of the universe.

  • CapeTownJunk - 2011-08-29 20:46

    Wow, all the people noticing that something that is 21 million light years away is something that happened 21 million years ago... gosh, do we have enough junior astronomer noddy badges to hand out? Sullivan's quote about discovering it (the day it blew up) might not be very well worded, but you know what he means, and it's really not something worth nitpicking about.

  • Raj Morar - 2011-08-29 20:52

    What??? and no comment about giving that man a "Bells"

      Dmitri - 2011-08-29 21:40

      9,460,800,000,000 kilometers.....if only that was converted into rands in my bank account, I could care less if the universe was expanding or not. @Raj - have a Bells :)

      Cire - 2011-09-15 19:10

      OK Raj - give that man a Bells - and have one yourself while you're at it :-)

  • Badballie - 2011-08-30 09:49

    miss information and propaganda, this has been reported since 2003, world wide the expected 2 suns phenomenon has been in the news for years. Now suddenly its big news.....what are you hiding??

      CapeTownJunk - 2011-08-30 09:52

      Judging by your comment, we're hiding your anti-psychotic medication.

      Cire - 2011-09-15 19:11

      @CapeTownJunk. Or reading too much David Icke, or watching too much Michael Moore and Oliver Stone

  • Androgene - 2011-08-30 11:29

    To think, them astrologer guys were able to see a star explode on the day of the event (give or take 7,670,250,000 days) while the ANCYL members are still banging rocks together in town. What a difference a bit of education makes, huh?

      CapeTownJunk - 2011-08-30 11:49

      A bit of education, like knowing the difference between astronomy and astrology?

  • robert burnet - 2011-09-01 07:18

    This star blew up even before the first hominids appeared on Earth... oh my

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