An international team of astronomers has discovered a supernova which is at least twice as bright and energetic, and they believe much more massive, than any other ever spotted in the universe.
Led by the University of Birmingham, the team believe the super-supernova, officially named SN2016aps, could be an example of something called a “pulsational pair-instability” supernova produced after two massive stars merged.
This extremely rare event has previously been only theoretical, and no astronomical observations had been made which supported its existence until the researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Dr Matt Nicholl of the University of Birmingham, the lead author of the study, explained: “We can measure supernovae using two scales; the total energy of the explosion, and the amount of that energy that is emitted as observable light, or radiation.”
“In a typical supernova, the radiation is less than 1% of the total energy,” Dr Nicholl explained.
“But in SN2016aps, we found the radiation was five times the explosion energy of a normal-sized supernova. This is the most light we have ever seen emitted by a supernova.”
A supernova is the most powerful explosion in cosmology. It happens when a star reaches the end of its life-cycle, burning through all of its fuel and collapsing in a matter of seconds.