Spectacular supernova's mysteries revealed

Aug 22, 2014
Spectacular supernova’s mysteries revealed
Galaxy M82 in which the supernova exploded. Credit: NASA, ESA, & Hubble Heritage

(Phys.org) —New research by a team of UK and European-based astronomers is helping to solve the mystery of what caused a spectacular supernova in a galaxy 11 million light years away, seen earlier this year.

The supernova, a giant explosion of a star and the closest one to the Earth in decades, was discovered earlier this year by chance at the University of London Observatory. These phenomena are extremely important to study because they provide key information about our universe, including how it is expanding and how galaxies evolve.

The new research into its cause, published in the latest issue of the Astrophysical Journal, used vast networks of radio telescopes in the UK and across Europe including the seven telescopes of e-MERLIN operated from The University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory.  These enabled them to obtain extremely deep images revealing a lack of radio emission from the supernova. 

 Known as 2014J, this was a Type la supernova caused by the explosion of a , the inner core of star once it has run out of nuclear fuel and ejected its outer layers.   A white dwarf star can explode if its mass increases to about 1.4x times that of the Sun. At this point its core temperature reaches the point where carbon starts to undergo nuclear fusion. This spreads rapidly through the star resulting in a catastrophic thermonuclear explosion which rips the star apart, causing it to appear like a brilliant 'new star' shining billions of times brighter than the Sun.

For decades there has been a dispute about how this happens but these new results rule out the vast majority of models and show the merger of two white dwarf is by far the most likely cause. 

The research was led by Miguel Pérez-Torres, researcher of the Spanish National Research Council who explained:  "Supernovae play a fundamental role in the chemistry of galaxies and their evolution, as they are responsible for ejecting most of the heavy elements we see around us, including elements that cannot be formed in the interior of normal stars. A Nobel Prize was awarded in 2011 for the use of Type Ia supernovae to discover that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.  Yet, the basic question of what causes a Type Ia supernova was still a mystery".

Rob Beswick, a co-author of the research paper from the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics added: "The explosion of a Type Ia supernova is a rare event in the nearby Universe. Supernova 2014J is the closest Type Ia supernova to Earth since 1986, and it's likely that more than a hundred years will pass until we see another such so close to us. This was an amazing opportunity to learn more about these extremely important astrophysical phenomena and their underlying cause." 

Explore further: Type Ia supernovae stem from the explosion of white dwarfs coupled with twin stars

More information: "Constraints on the progenitor system and the environs of SN 2014J from deep radio observations" By M. A. Perez-Torres, P. Lundqvist, R. J. Beswick, C. I. Bjornsson, T. W. B. Muxlow, Z. Paragi, S. Ryder, A. Alberdi, C. Fransson, J. M. Marcaide, I. Marti-Vidal, E. Ros, M. K. Argo, J. C. Guirado are published in The Astrophysical Journaliopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/792/1

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11791
Aug 22, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Urgelt
5 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2014
Quit spamming us, 11791.

The article here *should* have mentioned that these results cast doubt onto a bedrock assumption in astronomy: that Type 1a supernovas all have nearly identical luminosity. That assumption is behind an awful lot of our distance metrics.

When the dominant explanation for 1a supernovas was 'white dwarf sucking gas from a companion until *just* the right amount was obtained for going critical,' then we had a justification for the assumption of same luminosity.

That justification is out the window if this analysis holds up, because two white dwarfs can vary considerably in mass, and so 1a luminosity may not be particularly invariant.

That's a BIG deal in astronomy. You can be sure a lot of researchers are going to be checking these results very carefully.
FineStructureConstant
5 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2014
The Chemonuclear Fusion Project is soliciting volunteers to help our crowdfunding and educational campaigns.
I have a pet gerbil who'd love to help out!
erdave
not rated yet Aug 23, 2014
@Urgelt, I support this notion, but there may be someone of higher intellect to explain. Fleetfoot?

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