NASA Recorded Brightest Supernova Explosion Ever

World | May 8, 2007, Tuesday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has recorded the brightest stellar explosion ever last autumn, NASA's press centre reported Tuesday.

The news came out so late because the astronomers needed time to process all the data Chandra gathered.

The explosion may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA. This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars were relatively common in the early universe, and that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own galaxy.

"This was a truly monstrous explosion, a hundred times more energetic than a typical supernova," said Nathan Smith of the University of California at Berkeley, who led a team of astronomers from California and the University of Texas in Austin. "That means the star that exploded might have been as massive as a star can get, about 150 times that of our sun."

Astronomers think many of the first generation of stars were this massive, and this new supernova may thus provide a rare glimpse of how the first stars died. The discovery of the supernova, known as SN 2006gy, provides evidence that the death of such massive stars is fundamentally different from theoretical predictions.

The star that produced SN 2006gy apparently expelled a large amount of mass prior to exploding. This large mass loss is similar to that seen from Eta Carinae, a massive star in our galaxy. Although SN 2006gy is intrinsically the brightest supernova ever, it is in the galaxy NGC 1260, some 240 million light years away.

Supernovas usually occur when massive stars exhaust their fuel and collapse under their own gravity. In the case of SN 2006gy, astronomers think that a very different effect may have triggered the explosion. Under some conditions, the core of a massive star produces so much gamma ray radiation that some of the energy from the radiation converts into particle and anti-particle pairs. The resulting drop in energy causes the star to collapse under its own huge gravity.

After this violent collapse, runaway thermonuclear reactions ensue and the star explodes, spewing the remains into space. The SN 2006gy data suggest that spectacular supernovas from the first stars - rather than completely collapsing to a black hole as theorized - may be more common than previously believed.
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