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Space Science

Herschel Spectroscopy of Future Supernova 21

davecl writes "ESA's Herschel Space Telescope has released its first spectroscopic results. These include observations of VYCMa, a star 50 times as massive as the sun and soon to become a supernova, as well as a nearby galaxy, more distant colliding starburst galaxies and a comet in our own solar system. The spectra show more lines than have ever been seen in these objects in the far-infrared and will allow astronomers to work out the detailed chemistry and physics behind star and planet formation as well as the last stages of stellar evolution before VYCMa's eventual collapse into a supernova. More coverage is available at the Herschel Mission Blog, which I run."
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Herschel Spectroscopy of Future Supernova

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  • Isn't that supernova really in the past if we see it go kablooie soon?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by spineboy ( 22918 )

      Yes, but it WILL have gone kablooey - which is the cool part.

      Actually what the cool part is, is that they are detecting so many compounds (complex organic ones too) in the stars ejected gas shell. They think that this type of star seeds/forms other stars and planets with higher weight elements and complex compounds. Another step in the understanding how life came about.

      • by tuxicle ( 996538 )
        Wouldn't the cool part be that we can see a supernova go kablooey in our lifetime? I wonder if this one would be close enough to see with the naked eye.
        • Wouldn't the cool part be that we can see a supernova go kablooey in our lifetime? I wonder if this one would be close enough to see with the naked eye.

          That has happened at least twice in the last few years. A 1999 GRB was associated with a magnitude 8 optical transient at 14 seconds after detection, which bodes well for it being naked eye visible ; one last year (IIRC, and currently a record-holder for distance and brightness) peaked at about magnitude 6, so again was almost certainly naked eye visible.


    • by Cyberax ( 705495 )

      Nope. There's no single 'past' or 'present' in the Universe.

      It's a future Supernova from _our_ point of view.

      • Wrong. The media, and even oftentimes scientists talk about time from our infinitesimally minuscule point of perception. In truth, for the majority of the universe time marches on in what is thought to be at a constant pace.

        This of course ignores time dilation. The fact remains though that most of what we see in our telescopes happened millions or billions of years ago.

  • Lots of hot water (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You can really see stars as the engines of life, not just as the energy source, but the source of our building materials. We are made of stardust as Carl Sagan used to say.

    Interesting notes from the article referring to the PACS and Spire instruments.

    The SPIRE spectrum, a portion of which is shown (Fig. 1 right), has prominent features from carbon monoxide (CO) and water (H2O).

    Many of the features are due to water, showing that the star is surrounded by large quantities of hot steam.

    In the PACS spectral ran

  • VYCMa (Score:5, Funny)

    by YourExperiment ( 1081089 ) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @03:14PM (#30256032)

    Planet, there's a place you can go,
    I said, planet, when your velocity's low,
    You can orbit, and I'm sure you will see,
    A supernova for you and me.

    It's fun to orbit VYCMa,
    It's fun to orbit VYCMa,
    They have everything that you need to enjoy,
    Being utterly destroyed.

  • SPIRE (Score:4, Interesting)

    by digitrev ( 989335 ) <> on Saturday November 28, 2009 @03:19PM (#30256074) Homepage
    Heh. Nice to see results from this. I just did some work related to SPIRE in Summer 08. Namely, some nonlinearities with regards to bolometers (the type of detector used on SPIRE). Just some coop work, but it's kind of nice to see a project you worked on get some nice results. Unfortunately, you can't see the effects of my work because they only show up as second and third harmonics, and the data here doesn't show enough to see it.
  • by K8Fan ( 37875 )

    ...soon to become a supernova...

    When they say "soon" is that "soon" in cosmic terms, like say within 10,000 years, or "soon" as within my lifetime?

  • by Rexdude ( 747457 ) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @04:59PM (#30256712)

    FTFA, it says that the star in question is 4900 light years away. To really understand what that means- the image of the star as we see it today left from it close to 5000 years ago, when the career prospects for laying 50 ton stone blocks were quite high in the Nile delta. For all we know, it might have gone supernova already at any point within the last 5000 years, and if we could instantly teleport to its location now we may actually just see the white dwarf remnant. Which means what we're observing may well be what once was, and not what currently is.
    Starlight is the closest we can get to time travel, in a way. To look at it another way, Betelgeuse is 640 light years away; if anyone could observe Earth from there now with telescopes (!!), they would see us as we were during the middle ages, with the Black Plague sweeping across Europe.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by digitalunity ( 19107 )

      I've considered that many times before. If you could instantly travel 60 million light years from earth and take a massive telescope with you, dinosaurs would be visible!

      Unrealistic for a lot of reasons, I know. It's still fun to think about though.

      • more importantly, if i could travel at least forty-six light years out and set up a really huge antenna, i could recover the lost episodes of doctor who!

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