Astronomy

Brightest Supernova Ever Seen Was Really A Star Being Ripped Apart

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Last year astronomers recorded the brightest Supernova ever witnessed. New evidence shows that this event may not have been a Supernova at all.

The event known as ASASSN-15lh was twice as bright as the previous recorded record holder and was twenty times brighter than the entire light output of the Milky Way galaxy. Supernova of this category are brilliant displays of force that can be some of the most luminous objects in the universe.

Further research into the event casts a doubt on the findings of a supernova, and instead points to a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE). A TDE is the light emitted from a star when being torn apart by a massive black hole. An international team studied the event for over 10 months and published its findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“We’ve only been studying the optical flares of tidal disruptions for the last few years. ASASSN-15lh is similar in some ways to the other events we’ve been seeing, but is different in ways we didn’t expect. It turns out that these events, and the black holes that make them, are more diverse than we had previously imagined.” Says author Iair Arcavi.

Below you can see an animation of what may have occurred in this TDE:

 

When the event was first discovered by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASASSN), astronomers didn’t initially agree with the findings of a Supernova. It was believed that stars at close to the center of our galaxy were not massive enough to produce such an explosion. This led researchers at the the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) to observe clues that pointed to a TDE, rather than a supernova.

“This is like discovering a new kind of dinosaur. Now that we have the right tools and know what to look for, we’re going to find more and get a better sense of the population. It is so exciting to have new ways of learning about black holes and stellar death!” Author Andy Howell.

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Jamie is an amateur astronomer and every day space geek.