Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Record-breaking stellar explosion helps astronomers understand far-off galaxy

Date:
August 30, 2012
Source:
Gemini Observatory
Summary:
Astronomers took advantage of the most distant supernova of its type to probe a galaxy some 9.5 billion light years away. The light from the exploding star, allowed astronomers to confirm that the gas environment between the stars in the distant galaxy is "reassuringly normal."

Left: Portion of the Gemini spectrum of PS1-11bam from December 5 containing several interstellar absorption features of Fe II and Mg II at z = 1.566 (black). The error spectrum is shown in blue. For comparison we plot the GRB composite spectrum of Christensen et al. (2011). Right: A zoom-in on the relevant Fe II and Mg II lines demonstrates the similarity to GRB absorption spectra. Also shown is the [O II] 3727 emission line at z = 1.567 from the January 1 Gemini spectrum.
Credit: Image courtesy of Gemini Observatory

Astronomers took advantage of the most distant supernova of its type to probe a galaxy some 9.5 billion light years away. The light from the exploding star, discovered by Pan-STARRS with followup spectroscopic observations by the Gemini North telescope and the Multiple Mirror Telescope, confirmed that the gas environment between the stars in the distant galaxy is "reassuringly normal.

An international research team, led by Edo Berger of Harvard University, made the most of a dying star's fury to probe a distant galaxy some 9.5 billion light-years distant. The dying star, which lit the galactic scene, is the most distant stellar explosion of its kind ever studied. According to Berger, "It's like someone turned on a flashlight in a dark room and suddenly allowed us to see, for a short time, what this far-off galaxy looks like, what it is composed of."

The study, published recently in The Astrophysical Journal, describes how the researchers used the exploding star's light (called an ultra-luminous core-collapse supernova) as a probe to study the gas conditions in the space between the host galaxy's stars. Berger says the findings reveal that the distant galaxy's interstellar conditions appear "reassuringly normal" when compared to those seen in the galaxies of our local universe. "This shows the enormous potential of using the most luminous supernovae to study the early universe," he says. "Ultimately it will help us understand how galaxies like our Milky Way came to be."

The discovery of the dying star in this distant galaxy was made using images from the Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope on Haleakala in Maui, Hawai'i. "These are the types of exciting and unexpected applications that appear when a new capability comes on line," said John Tonry, one of the study's co-authors and supernovae researcher at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Institute for Astronomy. Tonry adds, "Pan-STARRS is pioneering a new era in deep, wide-field, time-critical astronomy -- and this is just the beginning." After the Pan-STARRS discovery, spectroscopic follow-up studies using the Multiple Mirror Telescope in Arizona and the 8-meter Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i provided the data used by the team to probe the gas of the distant galaxy's interstellar environment.

The spectra revealed the signatures of a distant ultra-luminous supernova, and equally important, the unique fingerprints of iron and magnesium within the distant galaxy that hosted the explosion. The galaxy itself contains a very young population of stars (~15 to 45 million years old) with a mass totaling some 2 billon Suns.

Left: Portion of the Gemini spectrum of PS1-11bam from December 5 containing several interstellar absorption features of Fe II and Mg II at z = 1.566 (black). The error spectrum is shown in blue. For comparison we plot the GRB composite spectrum of Christensen et al. (2011). Right: A zoom-in on the relevant Fe II and Mg II lines demonstrates the similarity to GRB absorption spectra. Also shown is the [O II] 3727 emission line at z = 1.567 from the January 1 Gemini spectrum.

The ultra-luminous supernova explosion belongs to a relatively recently-identified and special breed of exploding stars. They are some 10-100 times more luminous than their ordinary less-energetic cousins and unusually blue in color. While the process leading to their demise is still being explored, evidence points to the central core-collapse of a star having as much as 100 times the mass of our Sun. The collapse triggers an enormous explosion that blasts prodigious amounts of heavier elements through the star's enormous outer layers before expanding into space.

Traditionally, astronomers have used two techniques to study distant galaxies: They would either; 1) look directly for chemical elements leaving bright imprints on the galaxy's spectrum of light; or 2) search indirectly for dark signatures in the spectrum of an even more distant quasar, which reveals chemical elements in an intervening system that have absorbed light along our line of sight.

Recently, astronomers have supplanted these methods with another: seeking dark absorption imprints in the afterglows of "gamma-ray bursts" (GRBs); these brief flashes are the brightest and most energetic explosions in the universe, but they fade away within hours. The method is also limited by the need for expensive Earth-orbiting satellites to first detect and pinpoint a burst's location with precision before astronomers can make ground-based studies.

"The beauty of studying distant galaxies using ultra-luminous supernovae as a tool is that it eliminates the need for satellites and offers more time for study," says Alicia Soderberg of Harvard University. "A typical ultra-luminous supernova can take several weeks to fade away."

The study by Berger and his team provides the first direct demonstration that ultra-luminous supernovae can serve as probes of distant galaxies. Their results suggest that with the future combination of large survey and spectroscopic telescopes ultra-luminous supernovae could be used to probe galaxies 90 percent of the way back to the Big Bang.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Gemini Observatory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. Berger, R. Chornock, R. Lunnan, R. Foley, I. Czekala, A. Rest, C. Leibler, A. M. Soderberg, K. Roth, G. Narayan, M. E. Huber, D. Milisavljevic, N. E. Sanders, M. Drout, R. Margutti, R. P. Kirshner, G. H. Marion, P. J. Challis, A. G. Riess, S. J. Smartt, W. S. Burgett, K. W. Hodapp, J. N. Heasley, N. Kaiser, R.-P. Kudritzki, E. A. Magnier, M. McCrum, P. A. Price, K. Smith, J. L. Tonry, R. J. Wainscoat. ULTRALUMINOUS SUPERNOVAE AS A NEW PROBE OF THE INTERSTELLAR MEDIUM IN DISTANT GALAXIES. The Astrophysical Journal, 2012; 755 (2): L29 DOI: 10.1088/2041-8205/755/2/L29

Cite This Page:

Gemini Observatory. "Record-breaking stellar explosion helps astronomers understand far-off galaxy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120830065823.htm>.
Gemini Observatory. (2012, August 30). Record-breaking stellar explosion helps astronomers understand far-off galaxy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120830065823.htm
Gemini Observatory. "Record-breaking stellar explosion helps astronomers understand far-off galaxy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120830065823.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

AP (Sep. 1, 2014) NASA reported the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, on August 24th. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. (Sept. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins