About 4.6 billion light-years from Earth, in a small galaxy, a star transformed into a type of supernova that until now, it was only theorized and never actually observed. Having the mass 100 times more massive than the Sun’s, SN 2016aps is considered the biggest supernova was seen by now.
The discovery was made by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii four years ago on February 22nd, 2016. The Hubble Space Telescope continued monitoring the event up until now. Most likely, the surveillance will be taken over by James Webb Telescope, since Hubble is going to retire within a year, and James will be launched in 2021.
Probably, the star currently measuring a density of about 50 times the Sun’s mass and its companion, which has a similar mass, were once a single gigantic star. Once means approximatively 1,000 years before the explosion. Then, the blast ripped the massive body apart into two distinct entities. The presumption belongs to Astrophysicist Matt Nicholl of the University of Birmingham in England.
Scientists Spotted a New Type of Supernova
The theory originated in SN 2016aps’ odd behavior. It showed large amounts of hydrogen within its spectrum. It wasn’t supposed to have this much hydrogen left since a supernova such as SN 2016aps occurs only after the nuclear fusion consumed most of its hydrogen. Also, during the two years of surveillance, the star diminished to only 1% of its maximum brightness.
Nicholl’s new study claims that only a pulsational pair-instability supernova could explain the phenomenon. Pulsational pair-instability of a supernova could temporarily reduce the core’s internal pressure so it won’t gravitationally collapse but only partially collapse. This way, the star blows apart without leaving stellar vestige behind.
“The nature of those first stars is one of the big questions in astronomy. In astronomy, seeing things further away means looking back further and further in time. So, we might actually be able to see the very first stars if they explode similarly to this one. Now we know what to look for,” said Nicholl, lead author of the study on the new type of supernova.