The Extraordinary Brilliance of SN2016aps: A Supernova Beyond Imagination
In the vast expanse of the cosmos, there are celestial events that capture our imagination and redefine our understanding of the universe. One such awe-inspiring phenomenon is the death of a large star. Large stars run out of lighter elements in their core, and when silicon and iron fuse, the entire star collapses in a fraction of a second towards that core by gravity. However, the collapsing star can't be remain in that high energy meta stable state and it explodes with a ferocity unparalleled in the known universe. In its wake, a black hole, the other center of attention in cosmology is left in its place. This one just happens to be brightest Supernova ever recorded.
It is so powerful its brilliance lasts a long time. For example, on the surface of earth a different supernova that was so bright it could be seen in the day sky on earth and was recorded at the same time by separate civilizations in 1054AD. The immense brightness of any supernova (the part that is visible light) represents only 1% of the total energy released by the explosion. The rest of the energy is cast out vast distances as gamma irradiation, heavier elements, and massless subatomic particles.
All the elements heavier than iron, including all the gold on earth came from an exploding supernova.
SN2016aps, the brightest supernova ever recorded is known as "The Brightest of All Time" (BOAT). This extraordinary celestial explosion, which occurred approximately 4 billion light-years away, has left astronomers and astrophysicists in awe of its brilliance and significance. In this article, we delve into the captivating story of SN2016aps, exploring its origins, characteristics, and pinpoint a cause for it being so intense. This is not a new discovery, it is being widely covered as it is confirmation of what was hypothesized in 2016 and the current scientific explanation behind it.
The Stellar Blaze of the Brightest Supernova
SN2016aps, aptly named for its discovery in 2016, has captivated the scientific community with its immense luminosity, outshining all known supernovae in recorded history. It is ten times more bright than typical supernovae. The celestial explosion was first detected by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System observatory in Hawaii, serving as a catalyst for extensive research and observation.
How Bright is that exactly?
What makes SN2016aps truly remarkable is its ability to overshadow the entire galaxy in which it resides, a testament to the cataclysmic forces at play.
In a standard supernova, only about one percent of the total explosion energy of 10^51 erg is emitted as visible light. However, the extraordinary SN2016aps defies convention with an explosion energy of 10^52 erg, of which approximately 50 percent was radiated as visible light. This unparalleled energy output makes SN2016aps shine 500 times brighter than typical supernova explosions. (an erg is the accepted unit of energy = 10−7 Joules). Also, this star before it died was 100 times the mass of our own star, the sun.
Expanding Our Horizons: Future Research and Exploration
The discovery of SN2016aps opens up a new frontier in the exploration of extremely luminous supernovae. Dr. Edo Berger, Harvard University professor and co-author of the study, emphasizes the far-reaching implications of this groundbreaking finding. With the advent of the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), they anticipate uncovering similar awe-inspiring events from the first billion years of the universe's existence. The prospects of unearthing numerous examples of such supernovae will undoubtedly revolutionize our understanding of the early cosmos.
A group of scientists consisting of researchers from CfA, University of Birmingham, Northwestern University, and Ohio University made the initial discovery of the supernova in 2016 by analyzing data obtained from the Panoramic Survey Telescopes and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). They conducted a comprehensive four-year follow-up study to monitor the supernova's gradual transformation and remarkable energy emission. By examining archival images collected during the investigation, the team uncovered a progressive increase in the supernova's luminosity starting from December 2015, providing valuable insights into the supernova's characteristics and the nature of its explosion. The sighting of this extraordinary phenomenon immediately captured the interest of the scientific community, prompting Berger's team to embark on an extensive two-year-long endeavor. They diligently gathered observations and data from a network of telescopes and sensors spanning the globe, driven by their insatiable quest for knowledge about this monumental stellar explosion.
The Birth of a Dual Stellar Inferno - A Pulsational Pair
The reason this supernova is so extremely rare is it one explosion from two dying stars. Unveiling the origins of SN2016aps has been an arduous task for astronomers, but recent breakthroughs have shed light on its extraordinary birth. Scientific investigations suggest that SN2016aps resulted from the explosive merger of two smaller stars, a rare cosmic event of colossal proportions. This merging process gave rise to a "pulsational pair-instability" supernova, a previously theoretical concept that has now manifested in the radiant brilliance of SN2016aps.
These extraordinary events occur when two massive stars merge before undergoing the cataclysmic explosion. Scientists believe that the merger of two less massive stars in the case of SN2016aps may account for the unexpectedly high levels of hydrogen gas observed. Astronomers at the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii spotted the flash some 3.6 billion light-years from Earth on February 22, 2016.
The discovery of SN2016aps has opened new avenues for astronomical research and exploration. Scientists anticipate that this unprecedented celestial event will inspire further investigations into the deaths of the very first stars in the universe. With the imminent launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the doors to unraveling the mysteries of the cosmos are poised to open wider than ever before. This cutting-edge telescope holds the potential to peer back in time, allowing us to witness the celestial fireworks of ancient supernovae and gain invaluable insights into the early stages of our universe.
What We've Learned Since About Gamma Ray Bursts
SN2016aps has paved the way for groundbreaking research into the origins of the cosmos, beckoning us to unravel the secrets of the universe's past.
While the broad mechanisms behind gamma-ray bursts have been postulated, the intricacies of how and where these jets produce photons have remained elusive. However, a groundbreaking observation of the Boat Supernova has offered a unique opportunity to unravel the mysteries surrounding these events. This extraordinary gamma-ray burst has provided us with unprecedented data that could revolutionize our understanding of the intricate processes taking place within a supernova explosion.
The Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO): An Unconventional Telescope
The pivotal role in this groundbreaking discovery was played by the Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO), a remarkable instrument situated approximately 4,400 meters above sea level. While not a traditional telescope, the LHAASO complex comprises a set of instruments designed to capture air showers, which result from the collision of high-energy particles from outer space with Earth's atmosphere.
In comparison to conventional telescopes, air shower detectors offer unique advantages in studying events like the BOAT supernova. These detectors possess a remarkably wide field of view, enabling them to reconstruct events based on the photons and particles that reach the Earth's surface. Moreover, they are exclusively sensitive to high-energy events, making them impervious to the interference of low-energy daylight and allowing for uninterrupted observations around the clock.
Unveiling the Journey of the BOAT Supernova
During the eruption of the BOAT supernova, LHAASO's detectors not only captured the initial stages of the event but also closely monitored its evolution over the course of several days. Although the spatial resolution was limited, the wealth of data acquired, separated by wavelength, proved to be invaluable. Within the first 100 minutes alone, over 64,000 photons with energies above 200 giga-electron volts were detected—an astounding testament to the sheer magnitude of the BOAT supernova.
A noteworthy observation emerged from the stark contrast between photons at lower energies and those at the extreme ends of the electromagnetic spectrum. Photons above a tera-electron volt exhibited a smooth temporal evolution, while those in the mega-electron volt range demonstrated fluctuating patterns.
Deciphering the Data: Insights into Photon Production
Researchers suggest that this disparity in the data aligns with the notion that lower energy events are a result of the interaction between the jets and the turbulent debris within the supernova. The complex and proximal nature of this debris constrains the ability of particles in the jets to gain significant speed, consequently limiting their energy output.
Conversely, higher-energy photons are generated in regions where the jets have successfully cleared the supernova debris and begun interacting with the surrounding environment—likely comprised of particles expelled by the stellar equivalent of the solar wind. This environment offers a sparser and more consistent medium, allowing the jets to accelerate particles to extreme energies necessary for the production of photons above a TeV. (an eV or electron-volt is a small unit of energy; a tera electron-volt is a tremendous amount of energy)
The rapid emergence of TeV photons occurs within a mere 5 seconds, as the jets accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light. Subsequently, a more gradual rise is observed over approximately 13 seconds, indicating the interaction between the jets and the particles in the outer environment surrounding the remnants of the star. This interaction results in a higher count of high-energy photons while simultaneously diverting some of the jet's energy as it encounters an ever-expanding accumulation of material.
Unraveling the Brightness of the BOAT Supernova
Following this gradual falloff, there is an intriguing 11-minute period during which the count of high-energy photons begins to decline gradually. This decline suggests the widening of the jets as they move farther away from their source, indicating that the BOAT supernova appeared exceptionally bright because its central core jet was precisely aligned with Earth's vantage point. The timing of this drop-off further provides insights into the width of the jet during this phase of the event.
Advancing Our Understanding of Supernovae and Jet Formation
While the BOAT supernova has provided an unprecedented glimpse into the intricate mechanisms of gamma-ray bursts, there is still much to learn about these captivating events. Questions surrounding the initial launch of jets from black holes remain unresolved, representing a tantalizing avenue for future research. Nevertheless, detailed observations, such as those facilitated by the BOAT supernova, contribute significantly to our comprehension of the timing and dynamics of jet formation. Ultimately, these advancements in knowledge will contribute to the refinement of models elucidating the fascinating processes occurring during black hole formation and jet production.
This is of course, not the first time this particular supernova has been sighted. It was originally discovered in 2016 (as its name implies), was covered by leading academic journals in 2020, and only now, with more modern space telescopes like the James Webb Telescope was it possible to be seen or visualized . Supernova can be observed twice.
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