Feeds

Astronomers watch supernova go bang

Detailed, real-time data

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Scientists have, for the first time, been able to watch a star go supernova in real time, thanks to NASA's Swift satellite.

The event began back in February, when the Swift satellite, designed to detect and respond to a gamma ray burst (GRB) within 20 to 70 seconds, first sounded the alarm. The burst it had spotted lasted much longer than normal, continuing for around 40 minutes. Because of this, the observatory was able to capture data using all three of its instrument sets.

Swift carries three instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT), the X-Ray telescope, and the Optical and UV telescope. Each one gives astronomers more accurate data to help pinpoint the source of gamma rays. The satellite also alerts other orbital and ground based observatories, so they can view the event too.

"This GRB was the most extraordinary evolving object yet seen by Swift," said Dr Paul O'Brien from the University of Leicester.

This burst was also much closer than normal, and the researchers identified it as originating in a star-forming galaxy about 440m light years away, towards the constellation Aries. The team soon realised they were witnessing the first stages of the death of a star.

Dr O'Brien continued: "The three on-board telescopes all detected a slowly brightening then fading object. The results suggest a broad jet expanded into the surroundings, but it was accompanied by a slower-moving and incredibly hot - two million degree - bubble of gas produced from the shock-wave of the exploding star."

Dr Andrew Levan, University of Hertfordshire, said: "As well as studying the early evolution of the supernova for the first time these observations also show how the material ejected in the explosion evolve in the following days and weeks, the timescales on which supernovae are normally studied."

The observations revealed that this supernova was brighter than most, but dimmer than those usually associated with gamma ray bursts.

A gamma ray burst is associated either with the collapse of a massive star or with the collision of two stars. The bursts are normally very short lived - lasting from less than a second to just a few minutes.

Dr Levan said understanding the behaviour of this "transition object" would help scientists understand what it is about a star that produces a gamma ray burst.

"Usually these events are not detected until after the supernova has brightened substantially in the optical wavelength, many days after the initial explosion," said Professor Keith Mason, UK lead investigator for the UV telescope on Swift and CEO of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC].

"On this occasion we were able to study the remarkable event in all its glory from the very beginning." ®

An animation of the event is available here.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.