• UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    What a way to start off the season! @UCSBMensSoccer tops No.5 Stanford 1-0 Friday. RECAP >>> http://t.co/gPhjHwqFP0 http://t.co/z7Z90RLG5D
    17 hours 15 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    The Gauchos start the 2015 season off in style, hold No. 8 Stanford scoreless to win 1-0. @UCSBMensSoccer first win over Stanford since 2004
    18 hours 25 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Stanford trying desperately to get on the board but UCSB's backline can't be beat. Gauchos lead 1-0 with 5 minutes to go
    18 hours 32 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Ahinga Selemani beats his defender to set up Geoffrey Acheampong beautifully in the box, but the lefty's shot goes wide of the post
    18 hours 58 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Stanford with a pair of good chances with just under 30 minutes to go but UCSB still finds a way to keep them off the board and lead 1-0
    19 hours 4 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSBMensSoccer leading No. 8 Stanford 1-0 at the half thanks to a goal by who else, Nick DePuy. Great first half for the Gauchos
    19 hours 32 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    GOAL! Seo-In Kim sends a cross far post and Nick DePuy heads it in to put the Gauchos up 1-0 with 3 minutes left in the half
    19 hours 40 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Soccer: San Jose State 1, UC Santa Barbara 1 (Final - 2OT) UCSB, San Jose State Battle to 1-1 Tie http://t.co/KolrGPE4AY
    19 hours 53 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Big save by Vom Steeg to keep the game scoreless! 25 min left in 1st half @UCSBMensSoccer
    20 hours 4 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Stanford has the advantage in the run of play through 10 minutes but it's still 0-0. @UCSBMensSoccer
    20 hours 13 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WVB: UCSB Opens Season with Back-to-Back Sweeps! #GoGauchos http://t.co/yye1PtugDW
    20 hours 41 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Heres UCSB's starting lineup against Stanford: Vom Steeg, Quezada, Strong, Backus, Jome, Espana, Feucht, Murphy, Acheampong, Selemani, DePuy
    20 hours 41 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Don't miss @UCSBMensSoccer season opener against Stanford. Kickoff in 10 minutes!
    20 hours 49 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    @UCSBWomenSoccer ties San Jose St. 1-1 in home season opener behind early goal by Mallory Hromatko
    20 hours 59 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    RT @UCSB_Volleyball: Make that two sweeps on opening day! We topped UIW 3-0 and are now 2-0!… https://t.co/iybbM7N1tn
    21 hours 32 min ago

UCSB Scientists, Telescopes Help Discover ‘Once in a Generation' Supernova

Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 17:00
Santa Barbara, CA

A supernova discovered Wednesday is closer to Earth ––approximately 21 million light years away –– than any other of its kind in a generation. Astronomers believe they caught the supernova within hours of its explosion –– a rare feat for events of this type.

The discovery of a supernova so early in its life, and so close to Earth has energized the astronomical community. Scientists around the world are scrambling to observe it with as many telescopes as possible, including the Hubble Space Telescope, and telescopes from the UC Santa Barbara-affiliated Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT).

Andy Howell, adjunct professor of physics at UCSB and staff scientist at LCOGT, is one of the leaders of the team that discovered the supernova. Howell said: "We caught this supernova earlier than we've ever discovered a supernova of this type. On Tuesday, it wasn't there. Then, on Wednesday, boom!

There it was –– caught within hours of the explosion. As soon as I saw the discovery image I knew we were onto something big."

The supernova, dubbed PTF 11kly, occurred in the Pinwheel Galaxy, located in the "Big Dipper," also known as Ursa Major. It was discovered by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey, which is designed to observe and uncover astronomical events as they happen.

Such supernovae reach the brightness of more than a billion suns in the first three weeks after the explosion, because the process creates energetic radioactive elements that decay and emit light, according to Howell. They normally can't be seen so soon after the explosion because they are too faint. The relative closeness of this event was one factor that led to the unprecedented early observations. The other factor is the use of robotic telescopes. The PTF survey uses automated telescopes to scan the sky nightly and alert observers when something has changed. Robotic telescopes at LCOGT then allow immediate follow-up observations.

LCOGT is building a network of robotic telescopes around the world. The first three are active in Hawaii, Australia, and at the Sedgwick Reserve, near Santa Ynez, Calif.

New images of the supernova from Wednesday night -- taken by the Byrne Observatory Telescope at the Sedgwick Reserve and another telescope in Hawaii -- showed the supernova had brightened by more than a factor of 20 less than a day after discovery.

"PTF 11kly is getting brighter by the minute," said Peter Nugent, the senior scientist at Berkeley Lab who first spotted the supernova. Nugent is also an adjunct professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley.

"Type Ia supernovae are the kind we use to measure the expansion of the universe. Seeing one explode so close by allows us to study these events in unprecedented detail," said Mark Sullivan, the Oxford University team leader who was among the first to follow up on this detection.

The team put in an urgent request to activate the Hubble Space Telescope on Wednesday. The telescope's schedule is set weeks in advance, but was interrupted to insert regular observations of the new supernova starting Saturday. This will allow the team to probe the physics and chemistry of the explosion.

Catching supernovae so early allows a rare glimpse at the outer layers of the supernova, which contain hints about what kind of star exploded. "When you catch them this early, mixed in with the explosion you can actually see unburned bits from the star that exploded: It is remarkable," said Howell. "We are finding new clues to solving the mystery of the origin of these supernovae that has perplexed us for 70 years. Despite looking at thousands of supernovae, I've never seen anything like this before."

He calls the stars that explode as Type Ia supernovae "zombie" stars because they're dead, with a core of ash, but they come back to life by sucking matter from a companion star. Over the past 50 years, astrophysicists have discovered that Type Ia supernovae are part of binary systems –– two stars orbiting each other. The one that explodes is a white dwarf star. "That's what our sun will be at the end of its life," he said. "It will have the mass of the sun crammed into the size of the Earth."

The relative closeness of this supernova means that even amateur astronomers will be able to see it in the coming weeks. "The best time to see this exploding star will be just after evening twilight in the Northern hemisphere in a week or so," said Sullivan. "You'll need dark skies and a good pair of binoculars, although a small telescope would be even better."

The scientists in the PTF have discovered more than 1,000 supernovae since it started operating in 2008, but they believe this could be their most significant discovery. The last time a supernova of this sort occurred so close to Earth was in 1986, but Nugent notes that it was peculiar and heavily obscured by dust.

"Before that, you'd have to go back to 1972, 1937 and 1572 to find more nearby Type Ia supernovae," said Nugent. "Observing PTF 11kly unfold should be a wild ride. It is an instant cosmic classic."

"Back then we didn't have modern instruments," noted Howell. "Now we have digital cameras, robotic telescopes, and all kinds of orbiting satellites that can see in x-rays, the ultraviolet, and visible light. We're going to have a field day."

 

 


 

 

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Top photo: The arrow marks PTF 11kly in images taken on the Palomar 48-inch telescope over the nights of, from left to right, August 22, 23, and 24.  The supernova wasn't there August 22, was discovered August 23, and brightened considerably by August 24.
Credit: Peter Nugent and the Palomar Transient Factory

 

 

†† Middle photo: Image taken Wednesday night, August 24, at LCOGT's Faulkes Telescope North of PTF11kly in M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy. The supernova brightened considerably over the one day it was observable. There was nothing at the position of the arrow earlier in the week.
Credit: BJ Fulton, LCOGT

 

 

††† Bottom photo: D. Andrew Howell
Credit: Katrina Marcinowski

 

Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

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