The Most Powerful Supernova Ever

We just saw it.  Another record breaker.  This incredible explosion of a massive dying star is the brightest supernova ever observed.  You may think you get how big this explosion was, but it was brighter than collective brightness of all the 400 Billion stars in the Milky Way.

This is an artist’s impression of the record-breakingly powerful, superluminous supernova ASASSN-15lh as it would appear from an exoplanet located about 10,000 light years away in the host galaxy of the supernova. Credit: Beijing Planetarium / Jin Ma

You may be asking why you can’t see it in the sky.  Well even though it is incredibly bright, it is 3.8 Billion light years away in a distant galaxy, so the discovery needed a huge telescope.

It may have been powered by a rare star called a magnetar, a star with such an incredibly powerful magnetic field, that it releases huge amounts of energy into it’s surroundings.  The magnetar that created this explosion would have to be spinning roughly 1000 times per second, yet still be more massive than the Sun.  It could also be activity of a supermassive black hole, but we won’t really have an idea until astronomers pinpoint it’s source.  Was it found in the center of a galaxy? Or near the edges?

Whatever it is, it is pushing the limits of our understanding of Physics.  This kind of power is barely allowed by natural laws, and is difficult to comprehend, yet alone explain.  Imagine the energy of 500 Billion Suns all packed into one small space.  That is how big this explosion was.  Until we understand what drove this huge energy release, we won’t know for certain if we will ever see anything this powerful again.

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