According to NASA, “A supernova is the explosion of a star. It is the largest explosion that takes place in space”.
If that doesn’t sound ominous enough, team of astronomers led by the University of Birmingham, along with help from experts at Harvard University, Northwestern University, and Ohio University have recently discovered the largest ever supernova recorded by scientists.
Named ‘SN2016aps’, the team of scientists believe that SN2016aps could be an extremely rare example of a phenomenon called ‘pulsational pair-instability’ in which two massive stars merge together before inevitably exploding. What makes this discovery even more fascinating is scientists previously thought an event of this magnitude only existed in theory.
According to Dr. Matt Nicholl from the University of Birmingham, supernovas are measured in using two different scales. The first of which measures the total amount of energy released by the explosion and the second measures the amount of energy emitted as visible light or radiation.
With a regular supernova, the radiation is less than one percent of the total energy released by the explosion. In the case of SN2016aps, the team of researchers found that radiation was five times the explosive energy of a normal-sized supernova, and that it produced the most light ever seen emitted by a supernova.
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The team of researchers observed the explosion for a total of two years, until the light faded to just 1% of its peak brightness. They were then able to calculate that the supernova was between 50 and 100 times greater than the mass the Sun. A typical supernova is between eight and 15 solar masses.
According to Edo Berger, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and co-author of the study, researchers were tasked with trying to find the “most exotic and the most rare types of supernova explosions.”
“This is one of the best examples we’ve had,” he added. “This is the type of event we estimate is something like one in 1,000 to one in 10,000 stars end their life in this way. So this is an extremely rare type of explosion and incredibly energetic. And this is exactly what we set out to find.”