Feeds

BETHLEHEM-grade SUPERNOVA possible 'within 50 years'

Pontiff-verified; but the Three Kings will need IR goggles this time

The next step in data security

Good news this week for relatively youthful watchers of the skies: top astronomers predict that within 50 years it's almost certain that a star in our galaxy will go supernova - that is, explode with stupendous violence - briefly creating a glowing beacon visible from one end of the Milky Way to another.

There's a catch, of course. While the chance of a visible supernova in the coming five decades is indeed close to 100 per cent, it seems that it will in all likelihood only be visible in the infrared as opposed to the homely visual spectrum detectable by the naked human eye.

Even though the coming supernova may only be viewable by suitably equipped astronomers - and perhaps soldiers or other people of the future using the right kinds of night-vision headset or scope - boffins are excited at what could be learned.

“Every few days, we have the chance to observe supernovae happening outside of our galaxy,” explains budding boffin Scott Adams, working on his PhD at Ohio State uni. Adams was part of the team which has come up with the new supernova forecast.

“But there’s only so much you can learn from those, whereas a galactic supernova would show us so much more," he goes on. "Our neutrino detectors and gravitational wave detectors are only sensitive enough to take measurements inside our galaxy, where we believe that a supernova happens only once or twice a century.”

As regular readers of the Register's astronomy coverage will know, a supernova occurs when a particularly large star runs low on fuel to burn. At this point the terrific continual blast of energy which holds the outer parts of the star away from the core ceases, and the mighty body collapses violently in on itself - which causes it to then explode with galaxy-shaking force.

Sadly, Adams and his fellow sky-probing scientists believe that the next star to go fully supernova here in our home lenticular galaxy - the Milky Way - is only about "20-50 per cent likely" to be viewable by the naked eye, with an increased chance for southern hemisphere residents as they can see more of the galactic disc. But that's still better than no chance at all.

There's a still lower chance - just 5 per cent in the next half-century - of a proper, really bright visual supernova of the sort that appeared in 1604. That one outshone all the stars in the sky for a time, causing great excitement for eminent old-time astroboffin Johannes Kepler. He theorised, as have many since, that a similar event must have caused the mystical bright star which - according to the Bible - heralded the birth of the infant Jesus.

That viewpoint has lately received authoritative backing from no less an authority than the Pope. Benedict XVI, formerly aka Cardinal Ratzinger, advanced the idea that the Star of Bethlehem - which guided the Three Kings on their way to hand over their gold, frankincense and myrrh - was a supernova in a book about Jesus last year.

So there's at least a small chance of a proper, Jesus-grade Star of Wonder in the next few decades - surely reason enough to keep watching the skies, even if one is not tooled up with an infrared scope and accompanying neutrino detectors.

There's more on the business of supernova spotting from Ohio State here, and Adams and his colleagues' new forecast can be seen here ahead of publication in the Astrophysical Journal. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
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?
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.