Thursday, August 31, 2006
Supernova in Real Time
Back in February, NASA's Swift Gamma ray telescope caught a curious burst of energy. Today, no less than four papers appeared in the journal Nature explaining the meaning of that energy burst.
It looks as if we have caught a supernova explosion in real time. Gamma ray bursts have long been frustrating. Trying to associate these transient bursts with astronomical objects or events has been difficult, because of the short nature of the bursts. This time, the Swift telescope cauge this unusually long burst in time for a batter of telescopes to observe the area, and for the first time were able to follow a supernova from the very early stages in a great range of wavelengths. The best studied supernova to date , SN 1987A, lacks obervations in the early stages of the event. It appears that the gamma ray burst was unleashed from the core of a massive Wolf–Rayet star as it began to collapse on its way to Supernovahood. Intrestingly though, this star was less massive than those typically thought to be capable of producing gamma ray bursts.
Unfortunately, to read the articles and commentary you need a subscription to Nature, but you can listen to the podcast, which discusses the gamma ray bursts (as well as other things), for free.