The Ancient Collision That Everyone Saw

The year is 1987, and on February 23rd, three separate neutrino observatories experienced a huge burst in detections. Although initially unsure of their origin, the next day a Supernova was discovered in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way visible in the southern hemisphere.  Known as 1987A, it was the closest supernova observed in centuries, and was observed by astronomers around the world as it brightened and then slowly dimmed.  By combining the visible observations with the neutrino data, scientists learned about how supernovae occur, constrained the mass of the neutrino, and opened a new...

A faraway Cosmic ray

Cosmic rays are incredibly powerful invisible particles, and we can’t be sure where they come from. Not much in the way of a comforting thought, but it makes for a cosmic mystery that astronomers have been trying to solve for decades.  And now they have come one step closer. Here’s what we do know.  Cosmic rays are energetic atomic nuclei travelling at near the speed of light.  They hit our atmosphere and rapidly interact with the molecules there to break into billions of smaller, less energetic particles that shower down on the life on Earth, without giving us much notice...

Science > Written History > Fortune Telling

One of the reasons I love science is that it actually does allow us to look into the past and future, beyond our existence in the present.  Written history gives us a perspective of a person who was around before any human currently living on Earth, and allows us to piece together the history of our culture.  This is very important, so no disrespect to historians and their work.  Much disrespect to fortune telling though.  It’s a waste of energy involving a person who fishes for information for a living.  But let’s talk about Science. Since we just passed Canada...

Heavy Metal

Where do the heavy elements on the periodic table come from?  The general answer is from what’s called the r-process of stellar nucleosynthesis.   This translates to ‘rapid neutron capture’ being the method by which most of the elements heavier than Iron are formed on the periodic table.  This process requires immense energy and was originally thought to only occur within core-collapse supernova explosions. “Understanding how heavy, r-process elements are formed is one of hardest problems in nuclear physics,” said Anna Frebel, assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and also a member of...

Narrowband Spaghetti

I’ve written many times about the power of looking at different wavelengths of light to study different properties of the universe.  From a visualization standpoint, there are other techniques that give you additional power when imaging.  More than just the wavelength of light you’re using to show the detail, you can choose the range of wavelengths to bring forward certain features while suppressing others. The aptly-named spaghetti nebula, shown above, is a great example of this.  A supernova remnant that covers the constellations Taurus and Auriga, the nebula is very large in the sky, covering three full moons worth (love that unit...

Blast From The Past

A supernova is the death blast of a giant star, far larger than our Sun.  Massive stars go out with a bang, outshining entire galaxies, allowing us to see them across the universe.  A supernova observed in 2013 occurred in a distant galaxy and took over 30 Million years to reach Earth, where the timing was perfect for us to observe and study it.  And now that it’s been studied, the explosion was truly the death of a giant. The supernova, named 2013 ej, was discovered in June 2013 in the galaxy M74 in the constellation Pisces.  It was the closest supernova...

Hubble Bubble

Not to be confused with Canadian Gum Hubba-Bubba, Hubble has released a great birthday image for it’s 26th birthday.  I’m a few days late to celebrate, but it’s still a beautiful image. Known as NGC 7653, the Bubble nebula is 8,000 light years distant in the constellation of Cassiopeia.  The reason for this natural bubble shape is that the star just left of center in the image is ionizing a surrounding cloud of Hydrogen with it’s powerful stellar wind.  As electrons and protons recombine at the edges of the bubble, they release an infrared photon that can be clearly seen...

Multiple Ancient Supernovae

If a supernova were to go off somewhere in our galaxy, the minimum safe distance for Earthbound life would be about 50 light years.  Any closer than that, and we would experience an intense blast of high energy radiation and an eventual shower of radioactive particles.  It would be like nuclear bombs were set off all around the Earth, causing little destruction but a lot of radioactive fallout.  Supernovae are incredibly powerful to be able to cause such damage at 50 light years, but even at larger distances, we can see evidence of their effects here on Earth. A team of...

Where does the Gold come from?

Gold doesn’t come from your local jewelry store, and the Gold rush that occurred in the Yukon territory at the turn of the 20th century is not the source I’m talking about either.  I want to take it further back, to the origins of gold the element.  Similar to the origins of most other elements on the periodic table, it requires an immense amount of energy, such as the nuclear fusion that goes on within a star.  But Gold can not be made by a star’s thermonuclear engine.  Gold requires more energy, as does every other element heavier than Iron.  So...

Shock Breakout Visualized

I just released a post about the Kepler Space Telescope and its observation of the shock breakout of an exploding star, the exact moment when it’s considered a supernova.  Further to this I wanted to show some of the great visualizations of the event, and to show you just how energetic and luminous a supernova really is, compared to our Sun.   The video shows the shock breakout, the bright flash lasting an hour, before the star rapidly increases in brightness to it’s maximum.  Not shown is the gradual fading of the supernova, which can take days or even weeks....