Changing Planet

Newfound Monster Supernova Breaks Records

A small portion of one of the fields from the Supernova Legacy Survey showing SNLS-06D4eu and its host galaxy (arrow). Superbright points of light with spikes are stars in the foreground. Credit: UCSB

A newly discovered exploding star may have broken two cosmic records, as it’s both the brightest and the most distant supernova ever seen, according to a new study.

Located about 10 billion light-years from Earth, the supernova dubbed SNLS-06D4eu is hundreds of times brighter than the typical supernova. This has led the astronomers with the Supernova Legacy Survey (SNLS), who made the find, to believe they may have stumbled across a whole new species of these dying massive stars, which they are calling “superluminous supernovae.”

First spotted as a faint ultraviolet speck on images six years ago, researchers initially were not sure what they had found. Its extreme brightness could not be explained by current theories of what powers supernovae. A supernova is generally thought to occur when nuclear fuel runs out in the star’s core, which causes it to suddenly collapse into a neutron star or black hole.

“At first, we had no idea what these things were, even whether they were supernovae or whether they were in our galaxy or a distant one,” said lead author D. Andrew Howell, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a statement.

“I showed the observations at a conference, and everyone was baffled. Nobody guessed they were distant supernovae because it would have made the energies mind-bogglingly large. We thought it was impossible.”

Researchers eventually came up with a new model that perfectly fits their observations and explains the internal mechanisms at work in this new class of cosmic beasts. The new models suggest that highly magnetized, fast-spinning neutron stars (called magnetars) might be the key progenitors of superluminous supernovae that provide the energy necessary to create such powerful explosions.

“What may have made this star special was an extremely rapid rotation,” said co-author Daniel Kasen of the University of California, Berkeley.

“When it ultimately died, the collapsing core could have spun up a magnetar like a giant top. That enormous spin energy would then be unleashed in a magnetic fury.”

The universe was just shy of four billion years old when the superluminous supernova burst. Howell and his team believe that it may be a remnant of a bygone time when mature galaxies, like our own Milky Way, were still just forming.

“These are the dinosaurs of supernovae,” said Howell.

“They are all but extinct today, but they were more common in the early universe. Luckily we can use our telescopes to look back in time and study their fossil light. We hope to find many more of these kinds of supernovae with ongoing and future surveys.”

The record supernova finding appears in the Dec. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Dwayne LaGrou

    Would it be possible that these huge supernovae having such strong magnetic fields that they would exhibit some of the actions associated with quasars only with the magnetic field shooting out the poles and causing some strange actions or being able to bend space due to it being so strong?

  • Reid Barnes

    Is a misconception spawned by self-contradicting non-Euclidean geometry in the general theory of relativity causing us to cling to a gravitational model for galaxy formation and to neglect the prospects of a plasma physics model? Edwin Hubble’s doppler shift explanation for the ‘red shift’ of light from distant galaxies has been upended. Are We Ready For A Galaxy Formation Paradigm Shift? See the Facebook Note about the unexpected developments that involved NASA scientists.

  • uzm

    That wonderfull

  • Mike Gilbert


  • Laghari Asif

    In other words this exploded sun event is ten billion years old,when our universe was just five billion years old!Than it must be the youngest sun that grew old and turned into supernova.

  • Nura haruna

    Geographic phenomena are not static in its location

  • allison Chan Beaulieu

    My husband & I think our universe’s Big Bang is just one of many Big Bangs that have happenned and are still happening on an ongoing basis.

    It’s like our universe is one raindrop amongst countless other raindrops.

    And when our universe hit an inert but permeable obstacle made of a much lighter & almost indetectable mass of material, it exploded onto it like a raindrop splattering onto the surface of an extremely lightweight but permeable jelly.

    And our inertia continues to propel us away from our point of impact, but some material slows down more than other material in our universe.

    Our fastest particles & earliest galaxies might even catch up to remnants of older universes’ slower moving material.

    So, when other big bangs hit material, eventually some of the older material from older big bangs, migrate into the area of our universe, and that’s why we see inexplicable things like the Methuselah Star. It’s probably an immigrant from another earlier universe’s big bang.

    That also explains why galaxies look so different from each other & rotate on different angles & travel in non-uniform trajectories, some crashing into each other or away from others. Some of those galaxies are immigrants too.

    The many raindrops of universes, splash near each other or even merge into each other sometimes.

    Also new universes are arriving all the time too, so we might see a very young & entirely cosmic object some day, from a brand new universe…

  • Tom Heavey

    It stands to reason that a star to have gone supernove after only 4 billion years must have burned very strongly and very bright. This must be relatively normal for a star this young.

  • Jeri Lynn Simpson

    If its strong enough to bend space, wouldn’t that lead to the possibility of bending time as well? I’m no physicist, but it seems to me that would fit the model of time/space – with the rapid spin almost being columnar, couldn’t that be a model of study for this?

  • Hammurabi BarAsmar

    I am extremely interested in astronomy and would like me to be with someone of the space rockets.

    I wish you happy new year

    Hammurabi BarAsmar

  • Benn Little

    Well there’s a surprise “Researchers eventually came up with a new model that perfectly fits their observations and explains the internal mechanisms”…… they thought it was impossible, then came up with a model to it what they have found. What amazing science. In other words we don’t know so will make up some equations that fit the results; as opposed to what may really have happened??

  • Guga

    Just me thinking “out loud” , but an UV spike at 10 Bly with the corresponding Z stretch would be kind of a GRB and at that timein the history of the Universe for a GRB to happen so early itmust have been from a supermassive star that I believe where common in the first populations of stars due to the lack of heavy elements formed in the Big Bang.

  • Sarah Arnold

    There is no such thing as the Big Bang.It didn’t create the world!Or the beautiful stars at night.

  • Sarah Arnold

    Question-How did earth began, I mean you know,who created earth? Because I know who created mankind and the universe and the earth.So,unbeleivers,please comment back.

  • Sarah Arnold

    How do you find evidence that the world and universe exploded because that’s not the real truth.

  • Jamie Arnold

    This photo is so….PRETTY!!!

  • Lee Miller

    It is entirely possible that a big bang and the story of creation occurred. Creation: Let there be light…BIG BANG….

  • Abby

    I love the article because I can always correct people.

  • Jose

    sarah, stars are not so pretty when you get close to them. they are made from gas and pressure. is u were 20 miles away from the sun, the heat will burn u to nothing. even when are about 4000 miles away from the sun, u will die.

  • Abby

    Just one question,I’m just peaking my interest into,why I wonder do people think that an old sun formed into sopernova????????SERIOUSLY I WANT TO KNOW!!!

  • Abby

    I mean this picture is awesome

  • Kate

    Cool!!!!!!I wished it was possible if we could live in space.

  • Plurb

    Abby, in a word gravity, in two words gravity and mass. Allison you and your husband are on the right track or string if you wish, though the contact of branes is most likely the producer of the dimensional instability to produce big-bangs and is just one element of the multi-verse, steady state of creation of which life is the end product.

  • kit kat kate

    Ummm…not sure.Cause,I don’t like giving info about myself over the internet to someone I do not know.Am I right?Oh,and the article was interesting.

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