Astronomers are gearing up for what could be a “wild ride” after a “once in a generation” supernova was discovered only “hours” after it flared up.
The Supernova, called SN 2011fe, was detected by a group of astronomers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley and was found in M101 (Pinwheel galaxy.) “We caught this supernova very soon after explosion. PTF 11kly is getting brighter by the minute. It’s already 20 times brighter than it was yesterday,¹” said Peter Nugent, the senior scientist at Berkeley Lab who first spotted the supernova.
It is believed that this type of supernova was the result of a white dwarf star siphoning off material from it’s companion star (like the system that gave us PSR J1719-1438) however unlike that system the white dwarf siphoned off enough material to begin fusing hydrogen into helium, crossing the which results in one of the most violent explosions in the universe, eventually brightening until it outshines the host galaxy.
Because of the distance from the galaxy to ourselves of around 25 million light years away, and it should be visible under dark skies and with binoculars in the northern hemisphere soon. It’s close location and the fact we pretty much saw this happening from the very beginning (well it happened 25 million years ago but you get the gist) means there is a wealth of data that can be gathered.
Supernovas are a handy way of measuring the distances of galaxies, since they occur under near identical circumstances they can be used as “standard Candles” to measure distances to a few hundred mega-parsecs. They also contributed to our understanding of the expansion rate of the universe and the existence of dark matter.