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Astronomers discover “defiant” new supernova

May 25, 2010

TORONTO, ON — An inter­na­tion­al team of astronomers has uncov­ered a super­no­va whose ori­gin can­not be explained by any pre­vi­ous­ly known mech­a­nism and which promis­es excit­ing new insights into stel­lar explo­sions.

SN2005E was first spot­ted on Jan­u­ary 13, 2005 in the near­by galaxy NGC1032. Since then, sci­en­tists have car­ried out var­i­ous obser­va­tions of it using dif­fer­ent tele­scopes includ­ing the Keck, the world’s largest, at Mau­na Kea, Hawaii. Analy­sis of the col­lect­ed data, the­o­ret­i­cal mod­el­ing and inter­pre­ta­tion led to the con­clu­sion that SN2005E was­n’t a typ­i­cal super­no­va.

Super­novae result from the col­lapse of very mas­sive stars or by ther­monu­clear det­o­na­tion on the sur­face of white dwarf stars com­posed main­ly of car­bon and oxy­gen. “But this one, although it appears to be from a white dwarf sys­tem, is devoid of car­bon and oxy­gen. Instead it’s rich in heli­um. It’s sur­pris­ing­ly dif­fer­ent,” says Dae-Sik Moon of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Depart­ment of Astron­o­my & Astro­physics, a mem­ber of the team pub­lish­ing their find­ings in Nature on May 20.

“The super­no­va explo­sion is the most ener­getic and bril­liant event that hap­pens in the uni­verse,” says Moon. “It is rich with infor­ma­tion, not only about how stars die, but to under­stand­ing the ori­gin of life and the expan­sion of the uni­verse.” Most heavy ele­ments are believed to be cre­at­ed in stars and spread through super­no­va explo­sions. Also, sci­en­tists use the bright­ness of super­novae to make esti­mates of the accel­er­a­tion of the uni­verse.

The lead author of the paper is H. B. Perets at the Weiz­mann Insti­tute in Israel. The paper stems from a col­lab­o­ra­tion that start­ed in 2004 at Cal­i­for­nia Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy when sev­er­al young post­doc­tor­al fel­lows, includ­ing Avishay Gal-Yam, now at Weiz­mann Insti­tute, Moon and grad­u­ate stu­dents formed a group to study core-col­lapse super­novae. This is ninth paper Moon has pub­lished in Nature on sim­i­lar top­ics.
The project was part­ly sup­port­ed by the NSERC Dis­cov­ery Grant pro­gram.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Dae-Sik Moon
Depart­ment of Astron­o­my & Astro­physics
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Kim Luke
Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to