Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Supernova the brightest ever seen by astronomers

SN 2006gy (a massive star in our local group) really went bonkers earlier this week providing astronomers with a good look at one of the rare phases of a star's life than can be seen in a single lifetime. This supernova took 70 days to reach full brightness and stayed brighter than any previously observed supernova for more than three months. Now, nearly eight months later after it started, it is still as bright as a typical supernova at its peak, outshining its entire host galaxy.

What is even more interesting about this baby is that it's mass and spectrum (read age and composition) are suspiciously similar to that of another super massive star in the Milky Way, Eta Carinae. SN 2006gy is 240 million light years away and provided some spectacular fireworks (needing at least an earth telescope to view). Eta Carinae is only about 7500 light years away (in our own Milky Way galaxy) and “may be poised to explode as a supernova” just like SN 2006gy. If it does, a spectacular new star would appear in our night sky (visible with the naked eye) in our lifetime.

That hasn't happened since SN 1572 appeared in Cassiopeia around 1572 (shown below in a map drawn by Thaddeus Hagecius) and shone hard for the next two years with a magnitude close to Venus. Cool, apocalyptical, or creepy?--you decide.

0 sugar rushes:

Post a Comment