Massive Star Explosion; Supernova Reveals Universe Is Still Expanding Really, Really Fast [PHOTO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on January 9, 2013 3:55 PM EST

Massive Star Explosion
This massive star explosion was captured by NASA. Supernova explosions like this one help astronomers gauge how fast the universe is expanding. (Photo: NASA)

A massive star explosion has been discovered by astronomers in a galaxy 10 billion light years from Earth. The distance means the massive star explosion actually occurred a long time ago, approximately 3.7 billion years after the Big Bang formed the universe. The supernova, known as SN SCP-0401, is categorized as a Type 1A supernova which astronomers refer to as "standard candles" because of how they enable them to study the ever-expanding universe and the dark matter behind it, according to Space.com. The massive star explosion was 10 times as bright as the biggest star explosion on record.

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"This is the most distant supernova anyone has ever found for doing dependable cosmology," David Rubin, of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

Rubin presented the results of the study which identified the massive star explosion at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif. Rubin and his team used the Hubble Space Telescope to record their observations of the supernova, which they first noticed back in 2004. Researchers at the time dubbed the massive star explosion Mingus, after jazz musician Charles Mingus.

Although the massive star explosion represents an unprecedented cosmic event, to astronomers the light from the massive star explosion was quite faint; the equivalent of looking at a firefly from 3,000 miles away.

It might be a faint light, but studying supernovae has led to some big discoveries.

The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics went to a pair of research teams that used the massive star explosions to confirm that the universe was, in fact, expanding at an accelerated rate.  Currently, NASA estimates the universe is expanding at a rate of 73.8 kilometers per second. That acceleration, they discovered, is driven by the mysterious dark matter that makes up most of the mass in the known universe. The dark energy driving the expansion of the universe means that, eventually, the universe will dissipate back into nothingness. But not before giving us a lot more massive star explosions to marvel at.

"The most important unanswered question we have about the nature of dark energy is whether it varies over time - whether it affects the expansion of the universe differently in different eras," Rubin said. "With SN SCP-0401, we have the first example of a well-measured supernova sufficiently far away to study the expansion history of the universe from almost 10 billion years ago."

In with a big bang, out with a whimper.

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