Extra Bright Supernova Could Change the Way We Measure the Universe


Image: NASA/Hubble
Image: NASA/Hubble
The discovery of an extra bright supernova has baffled researchers. The research, available on the arXiv pre-print server, could change the way we view these cosmic explosions.

By Amy Thompson|MOTHERBOARD

When stars die, they produce some of the most violent explosions in the Universe, called supernovae. Astronomers refer to these massive stellar explosions as “standard candles”, and use them to measure distances in the Universe.

Standard candles are all thought to be the same, emitting a specific amount of light. Since their brightness is known, astronomers are able to estimate their distance from the Earth by measuring the strength of their light. Picture this: You’re standing on a street that’s lined with street lamps. According to the inverse square law, the second lamp will be one-quarter as bright as the first lamp. The third will then be one-ninth as bright as the first, and so on down the street.

In our own galaxy, astronomers use young stars known as Cepheid variable stars, which pulse at regular intervals, as standard candles. However, once we go beyond the Milky Way, astronomers cannot pick out individual stars to use as standard candles, so they need another option. This is where supernovae come in.

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