New York teen discovers weakest supernova ever seen

June 11th, 2009 - 2:35 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 11 (ANI: Observations have determined that a peculiar, junior-sized supernova discovered by a New York teenager in 2008, might be the weakest supernova ever seen.

The supernova, called SN 2008ha, was discovered in November 2008 by Caroline Moore a 14-year-old student from upstate New York, making her the youngest person ever to do so.

It is a new type of stellar explosion, 1000 times more powerful than a nova but 1000 times less powerful than a supernova.

Even though this explosion was a weakling compared to most supernovae, for a short time SN 2008ha was 25 million times brighter than the sun.

However, since it is 70 million light years away, it appeared very faint viewed from Earth.

The peculiar object effectively bridged the gap between a nova and a type Ia supernova. SN 2008ha likely was a failed supernova where the explosion was unable to destroy the entire star.

“If a normal supernova is a nuclear bomb, then SN 2008ha is a bunker buster,” said team leader Ryan Foley, Clay fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and first author on the paper reporting the findings.

“From one perspective, this supernova was an underachiever, however you still wouldn’t want be anywhere near the star when it exploded,” he added.

Caroline was able to discover the object using a relatively small telescope, but some of the most advanced telescopes in the world were needed to determine the nature of the explosion.

Data came from the Magellan telescopes in Chile, the MMT telescope in Arizona, the Gemini and Keck telescopes in Hawaii, and NASA’s Swift satellite.

In typical supernova explosions, light from different chemical elements is smeared out across the electromagnetic spectrum by the Doppler effect.

Because the ejected bits of the star were “only” moving at 4.5 million miles per hour, the light wasn’t as smeared out, allowing the team to analyze the composition of the explosion to a new precision.

“You can imagine many ways for a star to explode that might resemble SN 2008ha,” said Robert Kirshner, Clowes Professor of Science at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“It could have been a massive star suddenly collapsing to form a black hole, with very little energy leaking out. But it looks a lot like its brighter cousins, which we think are nuclear explosion of white dwarfs. Maybe this one was an explosion of that general type, just much, much weaker,” he added. (ANI)

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