COLUMBUS (CN) – A 10-mile wide object billions of light years away has astronomers reporting that it could represent the most powerful supernova ever witnessed.
Ohio State University described the spectacle in a statement touting its research into a gas ball that first flared to life in June 2015.
Though 3.8 billion light years away, the explosion caught the attention of the school’s collaborative project All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae.
ASAS-SN, pronounced assassin for short, involves a group of professional and amateur astronomers manning several small telescopes around the world to find bright objects in local universe.
Since its 2014 launch the group has found 250 supernovae, rare events in which a massive star reaches the final stage of its existence and explodes, becoming up to 1 million times more brilliant, and then slowly fades away over weeks or months.
They dubbed their enormous new find ASASSN-15lh.
With their paper on ASASSN-15lh published last week by the journal Science, Ohio State University described the event as “200 times more powerful than the average supernova, 570 billion times brighter than our sun, and 20 times brighter than all the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy combined.”
An epic magnetar – a rare type of star with a strong magnetic field – could be responsible, but OSU quoted its astronomy professor Krzysztof Stanek, a co-principal of the investigation, as saying any magnetar this powerful pushed the energy limits allowed by physics.
The light could also represent unusual activity surrounding a supermassive black hole, but study co-author Christopher Kochanek said it could also be “a completely new kind of event.”
Kochanek teaches astronomy at OSU as well and is also the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Observational Cosmology.
“The honest answer is at this point that we do not know what could be the power source for ASASSN-15lh,” lead study author Subo Dong said.
A professor of astronomy at Peking University, Dong said it “may lead to new thinking and new observations of the whole class of superluminous supernova.”
The researchers expect more research will bring an answer, as the Hubble Space Telescope can provide information about the host galaxy and additional clues as to what exactly is transpiring.
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