sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Finger of God?



This is an artist's impression of the record-breakingly powerful, super luminous 
supernova ASASSN-15lh as it would appear from an exoplanet located about 10,000 
light years away in the host galaxy of the supernova.


As I type, astronomers are viewing a ball of hot gas billions of light years distant that is radiating the energy of hundreds of billions of suns. At the heart of this glowing ball is an object a little larger than 10 miles across.  Some clerics are calling it the "finger of God". I think that they may be going too far - but maybe they know something I don't.

Astronomers are not entirely sure what it is.

If, as they suspect, the gas ball is the result of a supernova, then it's the most powerful supernova ever seen.

In this week's issue of the journal Science, the publication reports that the object at the center could be a very rare type of star called a magnetar--but one so powerful that it pushes the energy limits allowed by physics.
An international team of professional and amateur astronomers spotted the possible supernova, now called ASASSN-15lh, when it first flared to life in June 2015.
Even in a discipline that regularly uses gigantic numbers to express size or distance, the case of this small but powerful mystery object in the center of the gas ball is so extreme that the team's co-principal investigator, Krzysztof Stanek of The Ohio State University, turned to the movie This is Spinal Tap to find a way to describe it.
"If it really is a magnetar, it's as if nature took everything we know about magnetars and turned it up to 11," Stanek said. (For those not familiar with the comedy, the statement basically translates to "11 on a scale of 1 to 10.")
The gas ball surrounding the object can't be seen with the naked eye, because it's 3.8 billion light years away. But it was spotted by the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN, pronounced "assassin") collaboration. Led by Ohio State, the project uses a cadre of small telescopes around the world to detect bright objects in our local universe.

Though ASAS-SN has discovered some 250 supernovae since the collaboration began in 2014, the explosion that powered ASASSN-15lh stands out for its sheer magnitude. It is 200 times more powerful than the average supernova, 570 billion times brighter than our sun, and 20 times brighter than all the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy combined.

"We have to ask, how is that even possible?" said Stanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State. "It takes a lot of energy to shine that bright, and that energy has to come from somewhere."

Todd Thompson, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, offered one possible explanation. The supernova could have spawned an extremely rare type of star called a millisecond magnetar, a rapidly spinning and very dense star with a very strong magnetic field.

To shine so bright, this particular magnetar would also have to spin at least 1,000 times a second, and convert all that rotational energy to light with nearly 100 percent efficiency, Thompson explained. It would be the most extreme example of a magnetar that scientists believe to be physically possible.

"Given those constraints," he said, "will we ever see anything more luminous than this? If it truly is a magnetar, then the answer is basically no."

The Hubble Space Telescope will help settle the question later this year, in part because it will allow astronomers to see the host galaxy surrounding the object. If the team finds that the object lies in the very center of a large galaxy, then perhaps it's not a magnetar at all, and the gas around it is not evidence of a supernova, but instead some unusual nuclear activity around a supermassive black hole.

If so, then its bright light could herald a completely new kind of event, said study co-author Christopher Kochanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State and the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Observational Cosmology. It would be something never before seen in the center of a galaxy.


14 comments:

  1. To get that much energy, it must be powered by a Ford engine. 3.8 Billion light years away? Just how long would it take the light to reach us? And they didn't see it until 2015? So, it could be a fart and the thing is over and done. Another mystery of the universe.

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    1. I remember a several years (decades?) ago when scientist saw a supernova actually happen in the heaves for the first time. Come to find out, it happened about the time man first came out of the pry-mortal ooze. Now it's gone. Vast space and time.

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    2. It happened 3.8 billion years ago. The sky is nothing but a vast clock and time machine.

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  2. Appropriate, considering we're in an election year and there are plenty of balls of hot gas to go around. *chuckle*

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    1. So what you're telling me is that it's a sign to vote for the Democrat of my choice?

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  3. Spin of that magnitude can be caused by one thing, and one thing only. Hillary's campaign team and the Black Hole herself. Mystery solved.

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    1. It may be the "Phantom Zone" where they will send Hillary for committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

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    2. Maybe 3.8 billion light years is far enough? I hope so.

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    3. I don't know. Hopefully it will burn her to a crisp and deliver her to Hell, where she'll take over.

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  4. But...but... The science is supposed to be settled... Sigh

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    1. That's only the "science of taxation". Everything else is up for grabs.

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  5. Sorry, it was me. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately which emits an awful lot of energy.

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    1. I'll call the Univ. and tell them that it comes from England, home of Hawking.

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It's virtual - it's a mirage - it's life