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Deep Field Image of Universe Reveals Earliest Known Supernovas

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According to research spearheaded by Tel Aviv University, thermonuclear type supernovas, also called Type-la, were exploding about five times more frequently 10 billion years ago than they are today. These supernovas are a major source of iron in the universe, the main component of the Earth's core and an essential ingredient of the blood in our bodies.

In order to observe the 150,000 galaxies of the Subaru Deep Field, the team used the Japanese Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, on the 14,000-foot summit of the extinct Mauna Kea volcano. The telescope's light-collecting power, sharp images, and wide field of view allowed the researchers to overcome the challenge of viewing such distant supernovas.

Scientists have long been aware of the "universal expansion," the fact that galaxies are receding from one another. Observations using Type-Ia supernovas as beacons have shown that the expansion is accelerating, apparently under the influence of a mysterious "dark energy" — the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics will be awarded to three astronomers for this work.

However, the nature of the supernovas themselves is poorly understood. This study improves our understanding by revealing the range of the ages of the stars that explode as Type-Ia supernovas. Eventually, this will enhance their usefulness for studying dark energy and the universal expansion, the researchers explain.

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