New Intergalactic Discovery Could Be Biggest Supernova Ever

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

The Earth, the Sun, Andromeda galaxy, they’ve all been around for as long as you can remember and as long as humanity has been around. So when a new light suddenly shows up in the distance, it’s a weird occurrence. But a newly detected explosion could be one of the weirdest—and it’s not the only one.

An international team of scientists is reporting a new kind of explosion that they can’t quite explain, billions of light years away. Maybe it’s a supernova. Or maybe it’s a star being eaten by a black hole. Or maybe it’s something entirely different.

“I’m a supernova person to start with so I got really thrilled that this could be the most energetic supernova ever,” Peter Lundqvist from Stockholm University in Sweden told Gizmodo. “But I had second thoughts.”

The brightest of the new sources is called PS1-10adi, an outburst of energy a thousand times brighter than a normal supernova near the center of a distant galaxy. It was about as bright as its host galaxy.

This explosion appeared in telescopic surveys of the distance Universe, including Pan-STARRS1 in Hawaii. The researchers followed up with other telescopes and watched the source’s light flare, then fade regularly for a thousand days. Typical supernovae dim after around 200 days.

While completing their survey, the researchers found an entire population of explosions just like PS1-10adi. They say these explosions were incorrectly associated with black hole activity at the center of these galaxies, according to the paper published in Nature Astronomy on Monday.

Aside from incredibly bright supernovae, the scientists proposed it could be an entirely new kind of tidal disruption event—an event where a black hole eats a star. Perhaps the high-density environments surrounding supermassive black holes can create the ripe conditions for different kinds of explosions.

But no matter what PS1-10adi is, it’s definitely interesting. [Nature Astronomy]


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