A new supernova discovered by astronomers is the most powerful ever detected in the universe so far. Roughly 3.8 billion miles away from Earth, the star explosion created a burst of light 600 billion times brighter than our sun and 20 times more luminous than all 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
As reported previously by The Inquisitr, scientists witnessed another spectacular cosmic event. Recently, the Hubble Space Telescope captured two galaxies merging together.
Named ASASSN-15lh by space scientists, the newly-discovered supernova released energy 200 times more powerful than the average star explosion. According to Scientific American, it would take the Sun more than 90 billion years to emit an equal amount.
Fortunately, the supernova occurred in a distant galaxy many light-years away. The explosion was so massive that if it had occurred as near as Pluto, Earth, and the rest of the solar system would have been wiped out of existence.
“ASASSN-15lh is the most powerful supernova discovered in human history,” Subo Dong, an astronomer and a Youth Qianren Research Professor at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University and the lead author on a study on the supernova in the journal Science said in a statement. “The explosion’s mechanism and power source remain shrouded in mystery because all known theories meet serious challenges in explaining the immense amount of energy ASASSN-15lh has radiated.”
The new supernova discovery happened in June 2015 by telescopes in Cerro Tololo, Chile, while conducting the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN). The ASAS-SN is made up of small telescopes located at two observation sites in Chile and Hawaii that can scan the entire sky every two to three days.
“Every time in science we open up a new discovery space, exciting findings should follow,” said Krzysztof Stanek, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University and the co-Principal Investigator of ASAS-SN. “The trick is not to miss them.”
Not only was the supernova super-luminous, it was far hotter than any other. So far, astronomers have learned quite a bit from the bright and slowly fading afterglow.
Most importantly, the chemical elements scattered after the explosion indicate ASASSN-15lh was “hydrogen-poor,” meaning only very small traces of the chemical element hydrogen were present. This tells scientists that the star had somehow released the gas before exploding.
J. Craig Wheeler, the Samuel T. and Fern Yanagisawa Regents Professor in Astronomy and Distinguished Teaching Professor, told Fox News the new supernova discovery can help astronomers understand how these events occur, but ASASSN-15lh leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
“Many of these very luminous events result from a massive star that belches out a shell of matter and then explodes into it. That picture works best when there is a blanket of hydrogen. This event falls in the class that have no hydrogen. Shell collision might still play a role, but another active possibility is that a powerful new-born neutron star pumps out the excess radiation. This event challenges even that model, so there will be a lot of head scratching.”
To help explain the massive amounts of energy being expelled by ASASSN-15lh, one theory suggests a rare type of star, known as a millisecond magnetar, may have been born out of the explosion. While only 10 miles across, this type of star has a mass 1.5 times that of the sun and rotates 1,000 times a second.
The new supernova discovery stretches the limits of physics. According to Todd Thompson, an ASASSN collaborator at Ohio State, says that if it is a magnetar, then ASASSN-15lh is not only the most powerful and luminous supernova ever seen, but possibly the most that can ever be seen.
“The honest answer is at this point that we do not know what could be the power source for ASASSN-15lh. [It] may lead to new thinking and new observations of the whole class of super-luminous supernova,” added Dong.
Astronomers plan to use the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the precise location of ASASSN-15lh. Hubble will give a more detailed view of the explosion’s aftermath and help answer some lingering questions since the new supernova discovery.
[Photo by NASA/ESA via Getty Images]