From NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope: “Hubble Watches Exploding Star Fade into Oblivion”

NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

From NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

October 01, 2020

Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland

Bethany Downer
ESA/Hubble, Garching, Germany

Adam Riess
Space Telescope Science Institute and The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

NASA ESA and A. Riess (STScI/JHU) and the SH0ES team. Acknowledgment: M. Zamani (ESA/Hubble)

Disappearing Supernova in Distant Galaxy Captured in Hubble Movie

Now you see it, now you don’t. Though stars explode at the rate of one per second in the vast universe, it’s rare to get a time-lapse movie of one fading into obscurity. This disappearing act, in a galaxy 70 million light-years away, was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope as part of a program to measure the universe’s expansion rate. More than just providing celestial fireworks, supernovae can be used as milepost markers to measure distances to galaxies. This yardstick is needed to calculate how quickly galaxies appear to be flying apart from one another, which in turn provides an age estimate for the universe. The titanic explosion, which briefly outshined the entire host galaxy, originated from a white dwarf accreting material from its companion star. This pileup of gas eventually triggered a runaway thermonuclear explosion, making the dwarf nature’s own atomic bomb. The energy briefly unleashed was equal to the radiance of 5 billion Suns. This time-lapse sequence of snapshots compresses nearly one year’s worth of Hubble observations into a few seconds.


About This Video

This video shows a unique time-lapse of supernova 2018gv in galaxy NGC 2525, compressing a nearly one-year duration into a few seconds. The supernova is captured by Hubble in exquisite detail within this galaxy in the lower left portion of the frame. It appears as a very bright star located on the outer edge of the galaxy’s spiral arms. This new and unique time-lapse of Hubble images shows the once bright supernova initially outshining the brightest stars in the galaxy, before fading into obscurity during the telescope’s observations. This time-lapse consists of observations taken from February 2018 to February 2019. NGC 2525 is located nearly 70 million light-years from Earth.

Credits: NASA ESA M. Kornmesser and M. Zamani (ESA/Hubble), and A. Riess (STScI/JHU) and the SH0ES team.

About This Video

This video zooms into the barred spiral galaxy NGC 2525, located 70 million light-years away in the southern constellation Puppis. Roughly half the diameter of our Milky Way, it was discovered by British astronomer William Herschel in 1791 as a “spiral nebula.” The sharpness of the image increases as we zoom into the Hubble view. As we approach an outer spiral arm a Hubble time-lapse video is inserted that shows the fading light of supernova 2018gv. Hubble didn’t record the initial blast in January 2018, but for nearly one year took consecutive photos, from 2018 to 2019, that have been assembled into a time-lapse sequence. At its peak, the exploding star was as bright as 5 billion Suns.

Credits: NASA ESA J. DePasquale (STScI), M. Kornmesser and M. Zamani (ESA/Hubble), A. Riess (STScI/JHU) and the SH0ES team, and the Digitized Sky Survey.

When a star unleashes as much energy in a matter of days as our Sun does in several billion years, you know it’s not going to remain visible for long.

Like intergalactic paparazzi, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured the quick, fading celebrity status of a supernova, the self-detonation of a star. The Hubble snapshots have been assembled into a telling movie of the titanic stellar blast disappearing into oblivion in the spiral galaxy NGC 2525, located 70 million light-years away.

Hubble began observing SN 2018gv in February 2018, after the supernova was first detected by amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki a few weeks earlier in mid-January. Hubble astronomers were using the supernova as part of a program
to precisely measure the expansion rate of the universe—a key value in understanding the physical underpinnings of the cosmos. The supernova serves as a milepost maker to measure galaxy distances, a fundamental value needed for measuring the expansion of space.

In the time-lapse sequence, spanning nearly a year, the supernova first appears as a blazing star located on the galaxy’s outer edge. It initially outshines the brightest stars in the galaxy before fading out of sight.

“No Earthly fireworks display can compete with this supernova, captured in its fading glory by the Hubble Space Telescope,” said Nobel Laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the High-z Supernova Search Team and the Supernovae H0 for the Equation of State (SH0ES) Team
to measure the universe’s expansion rate.

The type of supernova seen in this sequence originated from a burned-out star—a white dwarf located in a close binary system—that is accreting material from its companion star. When the white dwarf reaches a critical mass, its core becomes hot enough to ignite nuclear fusion, turning it into a giant atomic bomb. This thermonuclear runaway process tears the dwarf apart. The opulence is short-lived as the fireball fades away.

Because supernovae of this type all peak at the same brightness, they are known as “standard candles,” which act as cosmic tape measures. Knowing the actual brightness of the supernova and observing its brightness in the sky, astronomers can calculate the distances of their host galaxies. This allows astronomers to measure the expansion rate of the universe. Over the past 30 years Hubble has helped dramatically improve the precision of the universe’s expansion rate

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The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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