Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New light on star death: Super-luminous supernovae may be powered by magnetars

Date:
October 16, 2013
Source:
Queen's University, Belfast
Summary:
Astronomers have shed new light on the rarest and brightest exploding stars ever discovered in the universe. Their research proposes that the brightest exploding stars, called super-luminous supernovae, are powered by magnetars -- small and incredibly dense neutron stars, with gigantic magnetic fields, that spin hundreds of times a second.

Artist's llustration of a magnetar -- a very dense, rapidly spinning neutron star with a gigantic magnetic field.
Credit: ESO/L.Calηada

Astronomers at Queen's University Belfast have shed new light on the rarest and brightest exploding stars ever discovered in the universe.

Related Articles


The research is published Oct. 17 in Nature. It proposes that the brightest exploding stars, called super-luminous supernovae, are powered by magnetars -- small and incredibly dense neutron stars, with gigantic magnetic fields, that spin hundreds of times a second.

Scientists at Queen's Astrophysics Research Centre observed two super-luminous supernovae -- two of the Universe's brightest exploding stars -- for more than a year. Contrary to existing theories, which suggested that the brightest supernovae are caused by super-massive stars exploding, their findings suggest that their origins may be better explained by a type of explosion within the star's core which creates a smaller but extremely dense and rapidly spinning magnetic star.

Matt Nicholl, a research student at the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's School of Mathematics and Physics, is lead author of the study. He said: "Supernovae are several billions of times brighter than the Sun, and in fact are so bright that amateur astronomers regularly search for new ones in nearby galaxies. It has been known for decades that the heat and light from these supernovae come from powerful blast-waves and radioactive material.

"But recently some very unusual supernovae have been found, which are too bright to be explained in this way. They are hundreds of times brighter than those found over the last fifty years and the origin of their extreme properties is quite mysterious.

"Some theoretical physicists predicted these types of explosions came from the biggest stars in the universe destroying themselves in a manner quite like a giant thermonuclear bomb. But our data doesn't match up with this theory.

"In a supernova explosion, the star's outer layers are violently ejected, while its core collapses to form an extremely dense neutron star -- weighing as much as the Sun but only tens of kilometers across. We think that, in a small number of cases, the neutron star has a very strong magnetic field, and spins incredibly quickly -- about 300 times a second. As it slows down, it could transmit the spin energy into the supernova, via magnetism, making it much brighter than normal. The data we have seems to match that prediction almost exactly."

Queen's astronomers led an international team of scientists on the study, using some of the world's most powerful telescopes. Much of the data was collected using Pan-STARRS -- the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. Based on Mount Haleakala in Hawaii, Pan-STARRS boasts the world's largest digital camera, and can cover an area 40 times the size of the full moon in one shot.

The study is one of the projects funded by a €2.3million grant from the European Research Council. The grant was awarded to Professor Stephen Smartt, Director of Queen's Astrophysics Research Centre, in 2012 to lead an international study to hunt for the Universe's earliest supernovae.

Professor Smartt said: "These are really special supernovae. Because they are so bright, we can use them as torches in the very distant Universe. Light travels through space at a fixed speed, as we look further away, we see snapshots of the increasingly distant past. By understanding the processes that result in these dazzling explosions, we can probe the Universe as it was shortly after its birth. Our goal is to find these supernovae in the early Universe, detecting some of the first stars ever to form and watch them produce the first chemical elements created in the Universe."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Queen's University, Belfast. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Nicholl, S. J. Smartt, A. Jerkstrand, C. Inserra, M. McCrum, R. Kotak, M. Fraser, D. Wright, T.-W. Chen, K. Smith, D. R. Young, S. A. Sim, S. Valenti, D. A. Howell, F. Bresolin, R. P. Kudritzki, J. L. Tonry, M. E. Huber, A. Rest, A. Pastorello, L. Tomasella, E. Cappellaro, S. Benetti, S. Mattila, E. Kankare, T. Kangas, G. Leloudas, J. Sollerman, F. Taddia, E. Berger, R. Chornock, G. Narayan, C. W. Stubbs, R. J. Foley, R. Lunnan, A. Soderberg, N. Sanders, D. Milisavljevic, R. Margutti, R. P. Kirshner, N. Elias-Rosa, A. Morales-Garoffolo, S. Taubenberger, M. T. Botticella, S. Gezari, Y. Urata, S. Rodney, A. G. Riess, D. Scolnic, W. M. Wood-Vasey, W. S. Burgett, K. Chambers, H. A. Flewelling, E. A. Magnier, N. Kaiser, N. Metcalfe, J. Morgan, P. A. Price, W. Sweeney, C. Waters. Slowly fading super-luminous supernovae that are not pair-instability explosions. Nature, 2013; 502 (7471): 346 DOI: 10.1038/nature12569

Cite This Page:

Queen's University, Belfast. "New light on star death: Super-luminous supernovae may be powered by magnetars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016132155.htm>.
Queen's University, Belfast. (2013, October 16). New light on star death: Super-luminous supernovae may be powered by magnetars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016132155.htm
Queen's University, Belfast. "New light on star death: Super-luminous supernovae may be powered by magnetars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016132155.htm (accessed February 1, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA's SMAP Satellite Will Measure Wet Dirt From Space

NASA's SMAP Satellite Will Measure Wet Dirt From Space

Newsy (Feb. 1, 2015) — NASA&apos;s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite mission will collect data to help forecast crop productivity, floods, droughts and wildfires. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Video Shows Stars If They Were as Close to Earth as Sun

Video Shows Stars If They Were as Close to Earth as Sun

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) — Russia&apos;s space agency created a video that shows what our sky would look like with different star if they were as close as our sun. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) walks us through the cool video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) — Retired astronaut and television host, Leland Melvin, snuck his dogs into the NASA studio so they could be in his official photo. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us, the secret is out. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) — NASA is remembering 17 astronauts who were killed in the line of duty and dozens more who have died since the agency&apos;s beginning. A remembrance ceremony was held Thursday at NASA&apos;s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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