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Space Science

Huge Supernova Baffles Scientists 358

Iddo Genuth writes "Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and San Diego State University have observed an explosion of a star 50 times larger than the sun. In what they call a 'first observation of its kind' the scientists were able to notice that most of the star's mass collapsed in on itself, resulting in a creation of a large black hole. While exploding stars, or 'supernovae,' aren't unprecedented, this star, which lay about 200 million light years away from earth and was million times brighter than the Sun, has exploded as a supernova at a much earlier date than the one predicted by astronomers."
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Huge Supernova Baffles Scientists

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  • Re:200 light years (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dreen ( 1349993 ) <> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @07:59PM (#27350895)

    200 million, not 200

  • Re:God's plan... (Score:5, Informative)

    by richdun ( 672214 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:00PM (#27350907)
    Okay, who's the genius mod who thought that was an actual religious reference? Someone needs their Geek Card confiscated.
  • by WalksOnDirt ( 704461 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:07PM (#27351011)

    Stars that massive lose mass rapidly. If this star was as old as theory said it should be it couldn't be as massive as the explosion showed it to be. Oops!

    Or something like that, I think.

  • Re:200 light years (Score:5, Informative)

    by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:44PM (#27351435) Homepage

    "200 million, not 200"

    Yep, had it been 200LY it would have been brighter than the moon in the sky and would have been visible even in the daytime...

    200LY is seriously dangerously close to us for a supernova...

  • by AstroWeenie ( 937631 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:50PM (#27351489)
    Here's the Hubble press release [] and the paper [].
  • by Fallen Seraph ( 808728 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:57PM (#27351527)
    You determine the age of a star based on several factors, but it's primarily based on the ratio of elements within the star. The life of a star is a continual struggle between the force of gravity, pulling the star inward, and the force of the fusion process taking place within the star, pushing it outward. As the fusion process continues, the hydrogen is fused into progressively heavier elements up until the point where it reaches iron. Fusing iron creates no net gain in energy, as the fusion process for iron requires more energy than is generated. By measuring the spectrum of a star, the stellar mass, ratio of elements, and other characteristics can be observed, which, coupled with existing data about stellar life cycles, and stellar classifications, can be used to determine the star's lifespan. Figuring out the lifespan of a star isn't new science, the trick here is that they believe their prior models of stellar evolution and stellar lifecycles may be incorrect. And if you actually read the article, you would understand as much because they say it in plain English toward the end.
  • by AstroWeenie ( 937631 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @09:13PM (#27351669)

    Sorry, but most of your ideas are far off base.

    One is that this was a binary system, that a second star was behind the first at the time of the "pre-supernova" photo, and that they collided. Remember, they have very few photographs, are not using any data from space telescopes like SWIFT, and are therefore filling in the blanks.

    Not correct -- they used both historical Hubble data to detect the star before it exploded and followup Hubble observations to confirm that the star has now disappeared. And they have data from the Keck Observatory with observations of the supernova. That's about as good as it gets for data.

    We can assume that star evolution is moderately well-understood (though not completely), so if what they think is the input is inconsistent with what they know is the output, the chances are really good that the input is wrong, especially with such little data.

    Star evolution is well understood for the bulk of the lifetimes of stars like the Sun, but there are still many questions about this sort of massive star. Such stars lose most of their mass during their lifetimes through stellar winds, which are themselves very complicated and not that well understood theoretically. And then the stars go through this luminous blue variable stage (which is what this star was before it blew up), and that is very poorly understood and is the subject of a lot of current work.

    So it is in fact much more likely that this has uncovered a part of late stellar evolution of massive, luminous stars that is not correctly described by current models. We don't need any really bizarre explanation like iron planets falling into the middle of the stars. (And that wouldn't work anyway -- the planet would have to have a mass bigger than the Sun to have a big effect.)

  • Re:It happens? (Score:5, Informative)

    by similar_name ( 1164087 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:33PM (#27352201)
    Socrates thought the earth was round.
  • Re:It happens? (Score:4, Informative)

    by MishgoDog ( 909105 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:15AM (#27353459)
    A statistician friend of mine pointed me to a study (that I have now lost) which showed some very interesting figures.

    The premise showed that basically, if you selected 100 investment portfolios at random (possibly with some basic rules, I'm not sure), exactly the same proportion would exceed to the same extent as if you the proportion of stock brokers who beat the market.

    The point is, if you missed it, that successful investors are no more than stastical effects :)

    Now, in reference to 'plenty of economists & analysts were predicting the impending doom', a lot weren't. Pick ANY situation, and you'll have plenty of analysts predicting both ways - and the ones who turn out to be correct are invariably labelled insightful, when no doubt a lot of them are just lucky.
  • Re:one difference (Score:3, Informative)

    by srussia ( 884021 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @07:46AM (#27355389)


    Dynamical? Really? It's bad enough the last president made up shit like this, now we have supposedly intelligent people doing it too?

    Yes really.

  • by rcamans ( 252182 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @10:37AM (#27357133)

    Stellar elements ratios involve the unknown starting ratios. We assume that a star of a given age had predecessor stars of a particular generation, with their elements ratios that they gave up in gas clouds that the star of interest was formed out of. One of the obvious mistakes in the current theory of stellar composition is that fusion stops at Iron. Yes, elements above Iron take more energy than they produce, but that just means that they are a negative contributor to the overall energy state of the star, not that they do not fuse. They will not be formed in high percentages, but they will be formed. So the theory of elements ratios needs to be re-calculated to get what is formed past Iron, and how much Iron, etc is used up in the process. A purely statistical calculation. This is just one example of poor logical thought processes in scientists, acting like the negative energy production is some kind of law that enforces production rules. All our current earthly fusion attempts are negative energy producing. This does not mean that they do not fuse, it just means that they do not fuse a lot, or self-sustaining mode. The post Iron fuse process is not self-sustaining, but it does not have to be, as there is a lot of energy locally available to power it. This does have a significant effect on the core of a star, due to its makeup of heavier, denser elements than Iron, as well as Iron. Where do you think the Uranium, etc in the earth came from? Astronomers assume it all is formed in the novas and supernovas, but some of it comes earlier. It is not an energy contributor to novas and supernovas, either, but they do not say it cannot happen then because of that.
    Another relevant mistake is that the stellar precursor gas is of uniform composition. In reality, it can be from more than one generation of star. One reason for this is that bigger stars live much shorter lives, so that parts of a star forming cloud can be contaminated by stars formed out of it which have then supernovaâ(TM)d contributing more gas to it to form stars which are actually mixed generation stars. This must have occurred for every generation of stars except the first big stars. But, more importantly, different sizes of predecessor stars end up producing gas of different compositions for starting new stars.
    Also, the stellar life cycle theories do not explain what happens to Lithium. Lithium is formed early on in stellar fusion, and is not found nearly as much in old stars as is expected. One period where stellar evolution is not currently understood, and where the Lithium actually disappears, is when the young star blows off its surrounding gas cloud, making it visible for the first time in its life. My theory? That in-falling matter finally hits the young, Lithium-rich star with enough energy to set off a self-sustaining Lithium fusion explosion on the star's surface. this shock wave not only propagates through the star, fusing most of the Lithium in the star, and using it up, it also blasts the obscuring gas cloud away from the star, ending the growth phase of the star, and revealing it to the universe. Kind of like the star comes out of the womb.
    As long as we do not have a clear, well-understood total life cycle of a star, we will continue to have issues with stellar composition, and stellar age calculations from stellar composition, and age-related events in the stellar lifetime, like the end event nova/supernova. We currently do not even understand the Oxygen levels in our own sun right now, and theory calculates a level way off from what it appears to be. We have to get this stuff down to an accuracy of better than a factor of two to be calling out stuff like novas with an accuracy of better than a factor of two. And since Lithium and Oxygen do not calculate out to within a factor of two right now, we should not be stating things without including an uncertainty figure, which Phd scientists tenured at universities are loath to do. They tend to make statements as if they were fact, making them feel like big, knowledgeable men, when

  • Re:It happens? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kismet ( 13199 ) <> on Friday March 27, 2009 @10:40AM (#27357187) Homepage

    You are using the language of the Faithful to describe scientific knowledge.

    "We" don't know anything. The people who "know" are the ones who have done the primary research. Have you? The rest of us have to look at evidence, as 2nd-hand witnesses, and then accept the testimony of those we have no reason to disbelieve.

    For instance, "you" have likely only seen third-party evidence of the roundness of the earth. Perhaps video footage and photographs. Maybe from high up in an airplane, you noticed the earth's curvature. That isn't a terribly conclusive piece of first-hand evidence, though.

    What primary evidence do you have for the age of the universe? Probably none. But, you believe those who say they do have evidence. You take their word for it in good faith.

    The scientific statement is this: It is certain that the earth's shape is a spheroid and that evidence suggests the age of the universe to be approximately 14 billion years.

If a subordinate asks you a pertinent question, look at him as if he had lost his senses. When he looks down, paraphrase the question back at him.