Mexborough & Swinton Astronomical Society
New Light on Dark Energy?
- Parent Category: News
Astronomers have spotted the most distant supernova ever seen. Nicknamed "Mingus", it was described at the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in the US.
Ten billion light-years distant, Mingus will help shed light on so-called dark energy, the force that appears to be speeding up the expansion of the universe.
Formally called SN SCP-0401, the supernova was something of a chance find in a survey carried out in part by the Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP) using the Hubble space telescope, first undertaken in 2004.
But the data were simply not good enough to pin down what was seen and astronomers had to wait until astronauts installed the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble telescope in 2009 before they could return to the object which had already been named after jazz musician Charles Mingus – following the SCP tradition of naming supernovae after composers.
The Wide Field Camera 3, installed on the Hubble Space telescope in 2009 enabled scientists to focus in on Mingus. The SCP team were then able to confirm that the supernova was in fact a Type 1a - a particular class of exploded star whose light occurs in such a regular way that it is known as a "standard candle".
Astronomers are able to compare distant and ancient Type1a supernovae with more local examples.
"We were able to watch these changes in brightness and spectral features for an event that lasted just a few weeks almost 10 billion years ago," said Saul Perlmutter, who leads the Supernova Cosmology Project.
Prof Perlmutter shared the 2011 Nobel prize in physics for work with Type 1a supernovae that proved our Universe is speeding up in its expansion.
By studying supernovae all the way back to the epoch of the earlies stars will, it is hoped, help unlock the mystery of the mysterious force, "dark energy", which has been invoked as the cause of the expansion.