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HubbleSite Kepler Solves Mystery of Fast and Furious Explosions

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Space Telescope Science



The universe is so huge that it's estimated that a star explodes as a supernova once every second. Astronomers capture a small fraction of these detonations because they are comparatively short-lived, like fireflies flickering on a summer evening. After skyrocketing to a sudden peak in brightness, a supernova can take weeks to slowly fade away.

For the past decade astronomers have been befuddled by a more curious "flash-in-the-pan" that pops up and then disappears in just a few days, not weeks. It's called a Fast-Evolving Luminous Transient (FELT). Only a few FELTs have been seen in telescopic sky surveys because they are so brief.

Then along came NASA's Kepler Space Telescope that caught a FELT in the act. Kepler's outstanding ability to precisely record changes in the brightness of celestial objects was designed to look for planets across our galaxy. But a great spinoff from the observatory is to go supernova hunting too.

Kelper's unique capabilities captured the properties of the blast. This allowed astronomers to exclude a range of theories about how FELTs happen, and converge on a plausible model. They conclude that the brief flash is from a vast shell of material around a supernova that abruptly lights up when the supernova blast wave crashes into it.

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