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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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  • It happens? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mc1138 ( 718275 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @07:38PM (#27350605) Homepage
    Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.
  • Re:It happens? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AaxelB ( 1034884 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @07:47PM (#27350727)

    Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

    Did you ever think we did? We're pretty damn clueless.

    I think we would all do well to remember what Socrates (approximately, probably) said: "The only thing I know is that I know nothing at all."

  • 200 light years (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Endo13 ( 1000782 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @07:57PM (#27350857)

    But since it was 200 light years away, that means it actually happened 200 years ago, right?

    Talk about old news...

  • by flaming error ( 1041742 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @07:57PM (#27350861) Journal

    the scientists have identified a star potentially close to explosion, whose mass was estimated to be equal to 50-100 Suns. Their observations revealed that while a small part of the star's mass was "flung off" in the explosion, most of the material, according to Gal-Yam, was "drawn into the collapsing core as its gravitational pull mounted." In subsequent images taken of that region of the sky, the star does seem to have disappeared, which led the astronomers to conclude that it has, indeed, become a black hole.

    The explosion of such an 'immature' star has led scientists to put existing theories of stellar evolution to doubt - "This might mean that we are fundamentally wrong about the evolution of massive stars, and that theories need revising," said Gal-Yam

    How did they figure out the star's age? Without a link to the original research, this article just sounds like one picture where a bright dot is there, and another picture where they can't see it anymore. If that's all we've got, I don't see why we need to rewrite solar physics.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @07:59PM (#27350903)

    Or, an alien species shot a missile into Sun to collapse it for their own purposes.

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

    by Mt._Honkey ( 514673 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:09PM (#27351049)

    Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

    I'm getting tired these kinds of posts every time something unexpected is observed. Yes, this observation tells us that our knowledge is not perfect. However, these claims that every contradiction between experiment and theory means that scientists don't know very much aren't just wrong but irresponsible, because people believe them.

    The vital point I need to make here is that our finite knowledge is not "all this proves". This proves that 50 solar mass stars can supernova before they shed their hydrogen atmospheres. Now we can take that new piece of knowledge and develop new and better theories about stellar evolution. To just throw are hands up and say "all this proves is that we don't know much" is to overlook a valuable opportunity to advance science.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:16PM (#27351125) Homepage Journal

    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.

    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.

    Another possibility. In order to get a supernova, as TFA notes, you need iron at the core of the star. There is no requirement that the iron be formed by the star, so there is no requirement that the star be at a stage in its evolution to have formed said iron. I don't know how large a rocky planet can get, but it's entirely possible to theorize of a bloody massive exoplanet made largely of iron dive-bombing a star. Depending on how close to critical the star is, it's possible to imagine such a strike giving a supermassive star severe indigestion.

    There again, they may have miscalculated the distance. I believe they rely on spectral analysis to determine the relative velocity of a star and use that to infer distance, as you can't use parallax at those kinds of distances. However, if the star was getting close to critical, the spectral patterns can't necessarily be assumed to follow those of stars in better health. Further, if the star's movement was not primarily due to the expansion of space, the measured Doppler shift won't be directionally proportional to distance.

    These reasons have probably been gone through and either discarded, laughed at, or even maybe put in the "improbable but should be looked at" pile, but it's very reasonable to assume the astronomers themselves have come up with many, many more possibilities, all of which could be valid based on what little is known.

    And that's just it. Very little is known, unless one of the rapid-reaction space telescopes detected the explosion and took a look. TFA makes no mention of such data, but given the volume they process maybe that information hasn't been looked at yet. But I suspect the mystery won't be solvable unless such extra data does exist.

  • Re:God's plan... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Icegryphon ( 715550 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:22PM (#27351195)
    "Life here began out there." These are the first words of the Sacred Scrolls!
  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:42PM (#27351403) Homepage

    Luminous Blue Variables (like Eta Carine) are so massive and so bright that gravity can barely hold them together. Should it be such a shock that such a star might blow itself apart given their inherent instability.

  • Re:It happens? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:43PM (#27351417)

    The set of all integers is countably infinite. The set of all real numbers is uncountably infinite. ;)

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

    by Samah ( 729132 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @08:57PM (#27351529)

    Am I the only one that is amazed that we as a species are watching events happen that are far, far outside our galaxy?

    And yet our galaxy is only a miniscule fraction of the observable universe, which is also a miniscule fraction of the theoretical "entire" universe (the shape of which is still heavily debated).

    To quote Douglas Adams:

    The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination.

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

    by merreborn ( 853723 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @09:05PM (#27351605) Journal

    Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

    I'm getting tired these kinds of posts every time something unexpected is observed. Yes, this observation tells us that our knowledge is not perfect.

    You rush to the defense of human knowledge at a time when our own short-sighted ignorance has just brought us to an era of spectacular failure.

    Surely, if the world's finance "experts" really understood economics, they wouldn't have positioned their companies for the collapses they recently saw. Or did AIG's best and brightest know they were setting their company up for catastrophe?

    I have to believe it was ignorance. We wouldn't be where we are now if our "experts" really understood the big picture.

    Humanity knows very little. But understanding just how little we know makes what little we do understand all that much more precious.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @09:21PM (#27351741)

    I was under the impression that it was managers who ran companies, not economists?

  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @09:33PM (#27351817)

    I'm getting tired these kinds of posts every time something unexpected is observed

    Me too. Those posts show nothing but the envy of people who wished they understood science, but do not have the needed energy and intelligence to study the necessary mathematics.

    Their escape mechanism is to pretend no one really understand science. They think they don't look so stupid if they can pretend everybody is as stupid as they are.

    I think the perfect answer to that kind of thinking was given by Isaac Asimov in an essay named "The Relativity of Wrong" []. In that article, Asimov shows that the difference between a flat earth and a spherical earth is much bigger than the difference between a spherical earth and the true shape of the earth. Although people who thought the earth was spherical were wrong, they were much *less* wrong than people who thought the earth was flat.

    Science converges asymptotically to the truth. Even if scientists can never be absolutely certain of the truth, they are always getting nearer to absolute truth.

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

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @09:51PM (#27351925) Homepage
    Yes... and for that matter, plenty of Economists and Analysts were predicting the impending doom. A few people even managed to make quite a tidy bundle off of it (real estate shorts, in essence). The problem wasn't that nobody knew, it's that nobody was listening because it wasn't what they wanted to hear.

    (Especially the politicians. Nothing so resoundingly bipartisan as the willful ignorance of our impending doom this past decade...)

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

    by Ruie ( 30480 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:27PM (#27352155) Homepage

    I think we would all do well to remember what Socrates (approximately, probably) said: "The only thing I know is that I know nothing at all."

    We have made some progress since then. For once, we know that Earth is round and that Universe is 14 billion years old.

    Modern statement would be "there are many interesting questions to investigate".

  • Re:It happens? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:34PM (#27352209)

    Nu uh dude, that was Operation Ivy!

    All I know is that I don't know nothin.

    And that's fine.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:57PM (#27352909)

    Most scientists don't understand science, outside their tiny provincial field; I'm a scientist so I see this all the time. Most have very fairy-tale notions of the scientific method and knowledge production in particular.

    You might want to read up on some of the people (scientists especially) who have taken the time to understand how science works, and written on the philosophy and sociology of science.

    In particular, it is certainly not true that science converges asymptotically to the truth. It oven diverges substantially, sometimes for hundreds of years, before entire fields (like "racial hygiene") are thrown out as failed experiments. We're currently in the middle of a debate over whether string theory should be placed in that dustbin or not, for example.

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

    by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @12:26AM (#27353121)

    I'll give you the earth being roughly spherical in shape, but we don't know that the universe is 14 billion years old. That figure is arrived at using more than an assumption or two, it's based on a whole load of things we don't understand, have no data on, or any means to test yet. It might well be accurate, but to say we 'know' is a little premature. Maybe you'll interpret this as nit-picking, I'm not sure. I don't mean for it to be though.

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

    by amRadioHed ( 463061 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @03:39AM (#27354165)

    We know we can observe the Earth, and that's all that matters. Whether the world we observe is physical, simulated, or imagined is irrelevant, as long as it has consistent rules for us to discover.

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

    by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @04:34AM (#27354383)
    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.

    People who trumpet their opinions about the stock market in public can't have too much confidence in what they're saying. If you really know what the stock market will be doing in the future, you shut the hell up and adjust your investments accordingly. Then, there's no ???, just profit.

  • Re:200 light years (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dreen ( 1349993 ) <> on Friday March 27, 2009 @06:35AM (#27354971)

    Now this is what I haven't written in the post before, since I wasn't sure. I know that it would be dangerous, but just how dangerous? I took a look and it seems it has been proposed that a supernova explosion at the distance of roughly 100 light years away was the cause of Ordovician Extinction [] which killed 60% of species on Earth by depleting the ozone layer through chemical reactions in the atmosphere that were the aftermath of the explosion.

    Further reading of this article [] says apparently in 1998 we were hit by gamma/x rays from supernova explosion 600 LY years away. So there definitely is a danger zone up to where? 300 LY? Another question: Would the explosion that is near enough to cause serious damage (as in, killing most people) be visible by observers BEFORE gamma and x rays do any visible damage?

  • Re:Uh huh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ceriel Nosforit ( 682174 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @06:49AM (#27355073)

    The good thing is, it's hard to ignore an exploding star. You can't just write it off as an anomaly, within acceptable standard deviations, or a measurement error.

    There still exists a great number of well-known anomalies which occur in for example electronics design, and yet we seem to think we know all there is to know about EM. The memristor is the latest instance of an 'anomaly' being transformed into what promises to be revolutionary technology. Yet, heaven forbid anybody but a select few favourite names rock the boat, proposing something new. If you think you're on to something exciting, you don't quite understand it but you do dare open your mouth about it, you'll be labelled a crank or worse ignored faster than Occam's razor is invoked on Slashdot.

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

    by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Friday March 27, 2009 @07:51AM (#27355411)

    But that is based on the assumption that the CMB is, indeed, the relic of the Big Bang, which is one of the assumptions referenced. And that the Hubble shift is, indeed, caused by the expansion of the Universe. Of course, I do not really doubt this, but these are still very indirect deductions. One could imagine a measurement which cast doubt on all of them - e.g. speed of light changing with time, in which case the whole Universe would probably need to be rescaled.

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

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @09:04AM (#27355995) Homepage

    Dude chill. In reality. Specifically astrophysics. the amount we know is infinitesimally small compared what is needed to know about it.

    See that single carbon atom, there on your desk. That's how much we know in relation to the planet, now compare that to the universe and you start to get it. Any good honest astronomer and astrophysicist will tell you that.

    Quit trying to make us as a species more enlightened than we really are. We are barely out of the apes beating each other over the head with sticks phase.

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

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @10:11AM (#27356715) Homepage Journal

    How ironic, someone with mod points skips modding to post an offtopic comment in response to another offtopic comment.

    This comment is offtopic as well. Modding myself down with the "no karma bonus".

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.