Brightest Supernova Ever Observed!

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Astronomers Recently Discovered The Brightest Supernova Ever Observed!

Resting in peace really isn’t an option for stars. They die violently. Always. Some collapse in on themselves and form black holes. At which point, their incomprehensibly combined density and mass devour everything nearby—including light. Then there are the rest of them. Those stars, when they die, explode in spectacular fashion! The smaller explosions are called novas, but when a supermassive star exhausts all of its fuel, the explosion is much bigger. Then you have a supernova on your hands. Supernovae are stunning to behold. And astronomers have recently found the brightest supernova ever observed.

Seeing the Light

Astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics found the supernova. That organization is a joint effort by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. In order to make the discovery in 2016, they used the Panoramic Survey Telescopes and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARS). That telescope sits atop the Haleakala volcano on Maui. As a matter of fact, in addition to telescopes, the Haleakala observatory contains an entire research facility that continually surveys the night sky. 

In order to measure the supernova, the team used the total energy of the explosion and the radiation. In fact, you can find their entire paper in the journal Nature Astronomy if you subscribe. Otherwise, there’s a lot more information in the Harvard press release on the methodology used.

The Brightest Supernova Ever Observed:

Before we jump into the specifics of this supernova, let’s remember that a supernova typically only occurs in stars that are at least five times larger than our own sun. Now that that’s established, let’s talk about a “typical” supernova. Usually, when a star goes supernova, it has burned up all of its fuel and is ready to collapse. As that collapse happens, the remaining outer layers of burning gas explode violently and form some of the most spectacular sights in the sky. Scientists are used to seeing about 1% of the star’s total energy in such an explosion. 

This one, however, emitted five times more energy than the average supernova. Which, of course, makes it the brightest supernova ever observed. In order to see such high light and radiation levels, astronomers calculate that SN2016aps (the star in question) should have been between 50 and 100 times larger than our own sun. In fact, some researchers suggest that the reason for such a large explosion is that SN2016aps was actually a binary system in which the two stars merged. 

Here’s a pretty neat video with some great info and animations about SN2016aps:

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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