Four ways of look­ing at a su­per­nova

Lenses make things look big. When the lens is the size of a galaxy, things look very big in­deed.

Cosmos - - Cosmos Science Club - — AN­DREW MASTER­SON

WHEN AS­TRONOMER ARIEL GOOBAR at the In­ter­me­di­ate Palo­mar Tran­sient Fac­tory in Cal­i­for­nia looked at the im­age recorded by the fa­cil­ity’s cam­era, he knew he had to sprint. In­cred­i­bly, he was look­ing at some­thing si­mul­ta­ne­ously mas­sive, spec­tac­u­lar, new, short-lived and a tri­umphant demon­stra­tion of the the­ory of gen­eral rel­a­tiv­ity.

The cam­era had cap­tured a new su­per­nova – dubbed ipt­f16geu – ex­actly as it ex­ploded. That was ex­tra­or­di­nary enough, but there was some­thing even weirder: the su­per­nova looked 50 times larger than it should, given that it was one bil­lion light-years away from Earth.

Goobar re­alised he was wit­ness­ing a phe­nom­e­non called “grav­i­ta­tional lens­ing”, pre­dicted by Ein­stein but rarely seen. In this case, it was all due to a large galaxy sit­u­ated be­tween Earth and ipt­f16geu.

The galaxy was curv­ing the space-time sur­round­ing it. Light trav­el­ling through the cur­va­ture acted as a lens, en­larg­ing the ap­pear­ance of the dis­tant ex­plo­sion. It was a once-in-a-cen­tury op­por­tu­nity. Goobar hit the phones, and or­gan­ised ex­tra images from the Hub­ble Tele­scope, the Very Large Tele­scope in Chile, and the Keck Ob­ser­va­tory in Hawaii. The re­sult? Su­per­nova, four ways.

IM­AGE: ALMA ( ESO/ NRAO/ NAOJ), L. CALÇADA ( ESO), Y. HEZAVEH ET AL., EDITED AND MOD­I­FIED BY SAHM KEILY

su­per­nova ipt­f16geu in back­ground galaxy mul­ti­ple images of the su­per­nova and back­ground galaxy

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