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Super Supernovae II

January 17, 2017

A supernova that was discovered a couple of years ago has astronomers doing a lot of head scratching. The explosion appears to be a couple of hundred times brighter than a typical supernova. But none of the models of how stars explode can fully explain why the blast was so bright.

Supernova 15LH is thought to be the violent death of a massive star. Such a star dies when it can no longer produce energy in its core. The core collapses, and the surrounding layers are blasted into space.

It’s not easy to explain a blast as powerful as 15LH, though — but that hasn’t stopped the theorists from trying.

One team, for example, says that the energy could be coming from the interaction between the supernova blast wave and a shell of gas and dust around the star. The material would have been expelled from the star long before the explosion, and was moving away from the star.

Other groups have come up with other ideas. One says that the supernova was powered by a magnetar — the star’s collapsed core. The super-dense, highly magnetized core would be spinning about a thousand times per second, pumping energy into the material around the core with each turn.

And yet another idea says that 15LH wasn’t a supernova at all. Instead, it was the death throes of a star that was ripped apart by a supermassive black hole.

With all these competing ideas, it’s likely to take a while to explain Supernova 15LH.

We’ll talk about another stellar blast tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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