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Youngest Galactic Supernova Found, But No Aliens 184

Simon Howes writes "After searching for decades, astronomers have found a supernova in our galaxy! So it wasn't little green men we were waiting for. It's located very near the center of the galaxy, about 28,000 light years away, and it's only at most about 140 years old. Quote from Bad Astronomy: 'If you're wondering what all the buzz has been about the past few days over a NASA discovery, then wait no longer. No, it's not aliens or an incoming asteroid. Instead, it's still very cool: astronomers have found the youngest supernova in the Milky Way.'" FiReaNGeL contributes a link to coverage on e! Science News; I think Wired's account of the super-hyped tele-press-conference is the funniest.
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Youngest Galactic Supernova Found, But No Aliens

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  • by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:02PM (#23407794)
    Younger than America, that's actually really impressive.
    • Re:140 Years old (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Azaril ( 1046456 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:04PM (#23407818) Homepage
      It would be, if wasn't actually 28140 years old.
      • by rts008 ( 812749 )
        That's what was confusing me when I actually RTFA, and *gasp* checked all the other links provided. (Joe Sixpack mode- see rant below, 'cause I am him)
        28,000 light years away, 'shockwave' that's creating the emissions that CHANDRA observed moving at 5% of light speed, only 'a sploded' 140 years ago....WTF?
        I was waiting to be told next that we have mis-understood gravity, and our feet are really at the top of our bodies, and that gravity actually was pulling us 'up' to the center of Earth!

        It used to be so si
    • 28140 years old (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mi ( 197448 )

      The write-up says:

      about 28,000 light years away, and it's only at most about 140 years old

      If we are observing it (the light, that left the start 28000 years ago) now, the start must be about 28140 years old...

    • Not quite younger than McCain []. What a shame. A supernova would have nicely topped the list.
  • by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:03PM (#23407806)
    If it's 140 yrs old, then it can't be farther than 140 ly for us to know about it ??!!?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      You beat me to it!!!! Nothing travels faster than light, wouldn't it have to be 28,140 years old???
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Wait a minute:

        1) Nothing is faster than light
        2) light is faster than sound
        3) Nothing is faster than sound!
    • So it's a trick super-hyped announcement! They're telling us that they only discovered a supernova, which is ok. What they are actually telling us through this feigned mistake, is that they've discovered ftl technology!

      Either that or they made an error converting AD years to light years. I hear they have problems with conversions.
      • A while ago a journalist called me up to ask about an Internet crime issue. She was somewhat 'confused'. I tried to explain what was really going on but she had an unfortunate habit of assuming that she understood things she didn't.

        Fortunately she then called up a competitor to ask for a comment and repeated her version of what I told her. He then responded, 'I really don't think thats what PHB said'. The story died there.

        You try but sometimes the journalist tries harder than they are able to.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This makes the original explosion the most recent supernova in the Galaxy, as measured in Earth's time-frame (referring to when events are observable at Earth).
    • by kalirion ( 728907 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:22PM (#23408154)
      We are seeing a 140 year old supernova. Just like someone looking at my baby pictures will be seeing a 3 month old kalirion.
      • y'know... somebody throwing facts at you can really suck the joy out of a facetious remark like that.... I think it's safe to say that just about everybody who reads Slashdot has the necessary smarts (if not the knowledge) to realize that the article was meaning to say that the light left a supernova which was 140 years old and travelled 28,000 LY to reach us. The humour in the situation comes from the contrast between what they say, and what they mean.

        But explaining that takes away from the humour in sayin
        • I think the joy was sucked out of the allegedly facetious remark by it being repeated roughly forty times in this thread.

          The desire to somehow, in any way, second guess the article has become nearly as annoying as the desire to get First Post.
      • 28,140 years old then, eh?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by liquiddark ( 719647 )
      Relativity actually defines, in a sense, the age of an event relative to your own perspective. The "causal" perspective is the only one that really matters. From our causal perspective, the supernova is 140 years old.
    • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:56PM (#23408722)
      They used a very fast telescope.
    • by Lars T. ( 470328 )
      No, what we are seeing is only 140 years old. None of us will see it at 28140 years of age.

      Look at this picture: []. How old is what you see? Churchill would be 133 now, the image ~127 years old - but young Winston is only 7.

    • by antic ( 29198 )
      Anyone else find the timing of the Vatican's comment on the potential of alien life interesting?

      Wired reported this week: 'NASA scientists at the Chandra X-ray Observatory are holding a teleconference this morning to announce "the discovery of an object in our Galaxy astronomers have been hunting for more than 50 years."'

      Around about the same time, Gabriel Funes was quoted in the Vatican newspaper saying that the discovery of alien life wouldn't disprove the existence of god, etc.

      Pre-emptive damage control?
  • distance vs age? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by forsetti ( 158019 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:05PM (#23407852)
    Wait -- if it is 28,000 light years away, but only 140 years old .... does that mean we won't see it for another 27,860 years? Or, did it actually occur 28,140 years ago and we could see it 140 years ago?
    • Re:distance vs age? (Score:5, Informative)

      by theelectron ( 973857 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:14PM (#23408002)
      After reading the articles, you are correct. It is actually over 26,000 years old, we were just able to see in in the last 140 years.
      • After reading the articles, you are correct


        It is actually over 26,000 years old, we were just able to see in in the last 140 years.

        Well, it's 26,000 years old from our perspective -- but from it's perspective, it's only 140 years old from the perspective of the evidence. Remember, it's traveling at the speed of light, so time has stopped.

        Or something like that, I didn't bother to RTFToR either.

    • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:17PM (#23408058)
      In space, all news is old news.
      • Re:distance vs age? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ZeroExistenZ ( 721849 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:26PM (#23408230)
        This is just in! A first alien message! It's estimated to be 500,000 light years away and even more radio year.

        After years of crunching our most heavy quantum computers, we decoded;
      • by Sentry21 ( 8183 )
        Yeah, but how long until the dupe is posted? Or is it posted already and we just can't see it yet?
      • by thewiz ( 24994 )
        Think of it as the universe's prior art for a Wayback Machine (
    • > ...does that mean we won't see it for another 27,860 years?

      Nothing travels faster than light. We won't know anything at all about this supernova for 28,860 years.

    • by ozbird ( 127571 )
      Wait -- if it is 28,000 light years away, but only 140 years old .... does that mean we won't see it for another 27,860 years?

      Not unless they've also invented a way to send information faster than the speed of light.

      Since scientists know that it exploded, the supernova's light cone (in 4D space-time terms) from 28000 years ago has already reached us, 140 years ago.

      Calling it "140 years old" is incorrect - not to mention misleading; using that kind of logic, the Big Bang is only 379,043* years old si
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:20PM (#23408102)
    All you need to do is divide the light years away by the smarmy posts about the speed of light in /.

    In our case, 28000 ly/200 smartass speed of light posts = 140 years ago.

    The more posts we get, the later it happens. Pretty soon, NASA will be able to predict the future! (Don't ask me about the math in that)

  • by loose electron ( 699583 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:22PM (#23408166) Homepage
    "The supernova explosion occurred about 140 years ago, making it the most recent supernova in the Milky Way as measured in Earth's time frame. Previously, the last known galactic supernova occurred around 1680, based on studying the expansion of its remnant Cassiopeia A."

    What that statement means is from the observational perspective of the earth. If it is a 1000 light years away, and we see the event here and now, then it occurred now "as measured in Earth's Time Frame" but actually from the distance, we know the event occurred a 1000 years ago.

  • Why did some asshat call in to the NASA teleconference and ask about moon crickets, and when the hell did that become a racial slur?
    • "Aside from the couple of loonies, I think that went quite well."

      How much does it suck to have to say that during the announcement of your career.
      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
        I don't know. If you DON'T have to say that during the announcement of your career, maybe you need a career that lets you make bigger announcements.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Why did some asshat call in to the NASA teleconference and ask about moon crickets, and when the hell did that become a racial slur?
      I dunno. You'd have to ask those stupid moon crickets that question.

    • The term "cricket" surfaced in a racial-discrimination lawsuit in Denver in the 1970s, as code for black patrons at a certain disco. Their doorman was overheard calling his management on his walkie-talkie and discussing how many "crickets" he should admit to the club.

  • Not so overdue (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EricWright ( 16803 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:28PM (#23408260) Journal
    Several different "experts" have predicted that the Milky Way should have at least one supernova every 100 years. Of course, the question has been why we hadn't seen one since 1604. I guess this ... ahem, sheds new light on the issue. As Dr. Reynolds puts it, there's too much interstellar 'gunk' out there.

    Disclosure: Dr. Reynolds was co-chair of my thesis committee, but I was doing computational astrophysics, not observational.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by photonic ( 584757 )
      The rate I heard was once every 30 years. This is the kind of explosion that LIGO and others are waiting for, since this would be a pretty easy target for observing gravitational waves. This one was at 28k lightyear or about 8 kiloparsec. LIGO has been running last year with a 'detection horizon' of about 15 Megaparsec, so this one was really at spitting distance. This is the reason why the gravitational wave community does an effort to keep at least one interferometer running at all times by scheduling th
      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
        I know you know, but your post wasn't completely clear: this object is a remnant, not an actual supernova, so LIGO is 140 years too late for this one. But since this indicates there are likely more supernovas that aren't as obvious as an extra Venus in the sky, LIGO is more likely to find something to observe in our lifetimes.
  • composite image (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That composite image looks strangely like the firefox logo.

  • by cybrpnk2 ( 579066 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:31PM (#23408332) Homepage
    NASA is wrong in saying this new supernova is the "youngest" - it is actually just the MOST RECENTLY OBSERVED. The Crab Nebula supernova [] has it beat as "youngest", exploding occuring only 6500 years ago (and observed less than 300 years ago, in 1731) instead of exploding 28,000 years ago (and observed in 2008).
    • by TigerNut ( 718742 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:48PM (#23408578) Homepage Journal
      The supernova associated with the Crab Nebula was observed and recorded by the Chinese and the Arabs in 1054. It was only in 1731 that the nebula itself was charted by Western astronomers and even later that it became M1 in Messier's catalog.
    • I think the point here is that we are recording digital images of a star as it was only 140 years after it exploded. As opposed to the crab, for which we have digital images 6500 years after it exploded. Regardless of how old the supernova "actually" is now, what matters is that the data we have shown it at age 140. Whereas for the crab, the data we have show it at age 6500.

      NASA is wrong in saying this new supernova is the "youngest" - it is actually just the MOST RECENTLY OBSERVED. The Crab Nebula supernov

      • The parent's parent is an idiot
      • Actually, the data we have for the Crab Nebula shows it at age 2008 - 1054 = 954 years vs. at age 140 years for the new supernova. You should compare the 6500 year "real" date to the new nova's 28,000 year date, not the 140 year date. No wonder they use stardates in star Trek. The NASA press release talks about the new nova being pretty special, but the Crab Nebula is no slouch. It expanded to over 10 light years in size in under 1000 years. That's 1% of the speed of light. Plus it is over four times
      • s/6500/1000/g
  • by amstrad ( 60839 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @03:37PM (#23408396)
    People need to read about relativity of simultaneity [] before trying to be smart asses and making laymen comments about events at large distances.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by had3l ( 814482 )
      I'm sorry, we are all observing the event from Earth. Since we all have a common point of observation in space time, we can actually make comments about when the event took place.

      If we didn't take Earth to be our common point of reference, then it would be impossible to come up with any numbers regarding the age of the universe from example. When inquired about when the big bang happened a smart ass scientist could respond: "10 billion or 17 billion years ago, depending from where you are looking."
    • by Skeezix ( 14602 )
      Um, the frame of reference is obviously earth. So the statements about how long something took to occur are actually meaningful, in "laymen" terms or otherwise. While the article you link to is an interesting introduction to time, relativity, and frame of references, it has very little bearing on the thread.
  • And I'm posting because there is no "Moron" mod.

    This is seriously one of the stupidest discussions I've ever seen on /. Every post is either repeating something from the article, making a pedantic loser comment on the "140 years" line, or explaining to the morons the whole concept of "Frame of Reference."

    It's what I'd expect from a society where people prank call a scientific conference. Nice one, guys.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bark76 ( 410275 )
      /me calls CERN

      me: Excuse me. Is you Large Hadron Collider running?

      CERN: Why yes, it is.

      me: Well, you better go catch it.
    • by Raenex ( 947668 )
      And just to complete the cycle...

      You must be new here.
  • Educate me, please. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lucas123 ( 935744 )
    28,000 light years away equates rougly to 164.6 quadrillion miles. While I'm certain that the scientists are using their very best methodologies and calculations, isn't attempting to measure the age of a supernova that far away down to the year it occurred analogous to attempting to sex a fruit fly perched on a rock in the Sea of Tranquility?
    • by Sciros ( 986030 )
      o.O if it's 28,000 light years away that already implies that what we see now happened 28,000 years ago. It took 28,000 years for the light from that event to reach us.
      • by Sciros ( 986030 )
        To further clarify, in case I misunderstood your original question, figuring out that the supernova is 140 years old took a few years of observation and measurements. Given what we do know about supernovae, I suppose it's not that difficult to estimate the age of one based on its current state and how quickly it's changing.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
      Kind of. The 140 year estimate (+- 30 years) is actually a maximum. The supernova could be younger if the gas it threw off is slowing down from colliding with interstellar material (which is likely).
    • Depends on whether or not that fruit fly has been taking some pills he ordered from a spam email.
  • Dupe! (Score:5, Funny)

    by STrinity ( 723872 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @04:16PM (#23409018) Homepage
    First posted August 1868:

    Natural philosophers studying the heavens have spotted a stellar nova some 7000 light leagues distance. The light from this exploding star emanated some 24000 years before the birth of Our Lord. This has caused some confusion among scholars, as this would require the star to have combusted some 20 millennia before the creation of the Universe. Philosophers are also unable to theorize what may have made the star explode, though one possibility is a build-up of gas deep within the star's anthracite core.

    This is certainly the biggest bang since Mr. Wilkes' curtain call during "Our American Cousin".
    • I do have science textbooks published in 1750. They didn't list any supernovae, but they did attribute thunder to the ignition of sublimated gunpowder by lightning. They almost got the Northern Lights right, though. Again, they attributed it to metals that had evaporated or sublimed and some sort of electrical effect. Well, the direction was wrong, but the extension of the ideas they were familiar with - the flame test - and speculation as to how to take that knowledge and apply it to something quite unknow
  • "The discovery addresses a lack of recent supernova in our galaxy."

    This makes it sound like the galaxy's going to suffer incontinence or flaking nebulae if it doesn't get enough supernovae.

    (disclaimer: this is a joke, I know what he means. I shouldn't have to add this, but this is slashdot)
  • As has already been pointed out, the light from the supernova got here 140 years ago. This obviously means that it exploded 26000+140 years ago, not 140 years ago. But leaving that aside...

    It's certainly possible, in theory, to know that something has happened in a far-off place before the light actually gets to us. Imagine that you train your telescope on an object which is 26,000 light years away. The object is a bomb, with a digital countdown which ticks once per year. Suppose that the display reads 25

    • It's certainly possible, in theory, to know that something has happened in a far-off place before the light actually gets to us.

      ummmm no, the scientific method is all about observable results. You can hypothesize that a supernova happened today on a star 26,000 years ago, but you know nothing until you see the light. When you don't see the light, you revisit your original predictions and make modifications. These magical counters you mention exist(like scientists have an idea when our sun will run o
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
      Unless of course it doesn't. Maybe it's a dud. Maybe the aliens who set up the counter were yanking your chain. Maybe you didn't translate their number system correctly.

      You can't observe that something happened before the light gets to you. You can't know whether it actually happened or not until you observe it. You can observe signs that it MIGHT happen, or even will probably happen, but the information that it did happen is propagated at the speed of light, beginning where and when the event happene
    • No, you cannot, because in reality, as per theory of relativity, there is no such as a thing as a global "now". In our frame of reference their 25860 years may be 25000 years or 26000 years depending on how it moves and accelerates relative to us (the galactic rotation, etc), so 'now' (our now) the event maybe has happened long ago or maybe will happen long afterward. And you wouldn't know how their time goes until a lightspeed signal can get to you from them - so even discussing anything in terms "what is
  • by Acheron ( 2182 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @04:59PM (#23409636)
    Now every time I read a /. headline, I'm going to be adding "But No Aliens" to it in my head. *sigh*
    • Boy you're going to be confused the day Slashdot's front page reads "Aliens discovered".

      Just like I was the day I got a fortune cookie that read "Between the sheets isn't where you'd prefer to be"
  • I used to think in supernovas like in a sun exploding, and as it, that last relatively little time. Being a process that last at least 140 years is something new for me.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
      It depends on what you classify as "the supernova." The actual supernova doesn't last that long. The supernova of 1604 was naked eye visible for 18 months. The remnant can be visible for a VERY long time. The actual runaway reaction that causes the explosion is probably fairly quick (though I'm not sure anyone has a really good estimate on how fast. There was a story a while ago about some modeling that might give an idea).

      So by explosion do you mean the time it takes for the reaction, or until you can
    • Nothing on that scale happens instantly. In the case of a supernova, it takes a couple of minutes, which is damn near instant in something that took billions of years to form.

      Anyway it's not "still going on" in the sense that you mean. It exploded 140 years ago (relative, all you morons, to us) and right now we're looking at the bits flying off into space at 5% of the speed of light. That "stage" of the explosion will take millennia to subside.
  • With so many discovery's in our own solar system, NASA has to continue to step on it's dick and announce something that 99.999% of our population will say B-O-R-I-N-G! I don't call a supernova 28k/ly away a "MAJOR" discovery. What about the ruins on the moon or Mars? I think that would fall into what NASA has been searching for the last 50+ years. You would think the powers that have been keeping us in the dark ages for so long would finally conclude that "it's time" for a real disclosure / discovery.
  • Here are some statements that have roughly similar truth values:

    It done blowed up 140 years ago.

    It 'sploded 28140 years ago.

    From the perspective of the Earth, the supernova occurred 140 years ago.

    The light of this supernova first reached the Earth 140 years ago.

    No, really, remember your quantum mechanics... on the Earth it really did only happen 140 years ago. Before we observed this event, the star was in a superposition of exploded and non-exploded states.

    There's no reference frame in which it's possible

Time to take stock. Go home with some office supplies.