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Huge Supernova Baffles Scientists

timothy posted about 5 years ago | from the like-laser-pointers-to-cats dept.

Space 358

Iddo Genuth writes "Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and San Diego State University have observed an explosion of a star 50 times larger than the sun. In what they call a 'first observation of its kind' the scientists were able to notice that most of the star's mass collapsed in on itself, resulting in a creation of a large black hole. While exploding stars, or 'supernovae,' aren't unprecedented, this star, which lay about 200 million light years away from earth and was million times brighter than the Sun, has exploded as a supernova at a much earlier date than the one predicted by astronomers."

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358 comments

It happens? (5, Insightful)

mc1138 (718275) | about 5 years ago | (#27350605)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

Re:It happens? (5, Insightful)

AaxelB (1034884) | about 5 years ago | (#27350727)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

Did you ever think we did? We're pretty damn clueless.

I think we would all do well to remember what Socrates (approximately, probably) said: "The only thing I know is that I know nothing at all."

Re:It happens? (4, Interesting)

pilgrim23 (716938) | about 5 years ago | (#27350953)

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20127001.300-space-storm-alert-90-seconds-from-catastrophe.html?full=true [newscientist.com] some excellent points there. We are about to loose civilization to a new form of "global Warm/toasting"

Re:It happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351637)

loose? as in the world is going to "cut foot loose"?

Re:It happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351753)

loose? as in the world is going to "cut foot loose"?

just ignore him. Its a twitter sock puppet.

Re:It happens? (5, Insightful)

Mt._Honkey (514673) | about 5 years ago | (#27351049)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

I'm getting tired these kinds of posts every time something unexpected is observed. Yes, this observation tells us that our knowledge is not perfect. However, these claims that every contradiction between experiment and theory means that scientists don't know very much aren't just wrong but irresponsible, because people believe them.

The vital point I need to make here is that our finite knowledge is not "all this proves". This proves that 50 solar mass stars can supernova before they shed their hydrogen atmospheres. Now we can take that new piece of knowledge and develop new and better theories about stellar evolution. To just throw are hands up and say "all this proves is that we don't know much" is to overlook a valuable opportunity to advance science.

Re:It happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351247)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about scientific reasoning.

Re:It happens? (1)

syousef (465911) | about 5 years ago | (#27351429)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.
I'm getting tired these kinds of posts every time something unexpected is observed.

Me too. It took me 3 years of study to not understand much about what's going on in Astronomy, and I haven't even covered the entire breadth of topics I wanted to (let alone depth)...but I guess I should just throw away my Astronomy degree since some slashdot troll thinks we don't know anything...

Re:It happens? (3, Insightful)

merreborn (853723) | about 5 years ago | (#27351605)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

I'm getting tired these kinds of posts every time something unexpected is observed. Yes, this observation tells us that our knowledge is not perfect.

You rush to the defense of human knowledge at a time when our own short-sighted ignorance has just brought us to an era of spectacular failure.

Surely, if the world's finance "experts" really understood economics, they wouldn't have positioned their companies for the collapses they recently saw. Or did AIG's best and brightest know they were setting their company up for catastrophe?

I have to believe it was ignorance. We wouldn't be where we are now if our "experts" really understood the big picture.

Humanity knows very little. But understanding just how little we know makes what little we do understand all that much more precious.

Re:It happens? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351741)

I was under the impression that it was managers who ran companies, not economists?

Re:It happens? (1)

Requiem18th (742389) | about 5 years ago | (#27351777)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

  OMG! We didn't know 50 solar mass stars can supernova before they shed their hydrogen atmospheres! Quick! Let's ban gay marriage and stem cell research and start praying!

Re:It happens? (2, Interesting)

Slumdog (1460213) | about 5 years ago | (#27351079)

Clearly all this proves is that we really don't know that much about what's going on in the universe.

Clearly? I think it depends on your sample size. So far we have only been able to collect very little data about some phenomena, and quite a good amount of data about others. So, we do know a lot about some things.

With an infinite universe (such as ours) and finite lifespan (such as ours) there is only so much data we can collect to gather inferences about what we observe. I think what you are saying is redundant.

Re:It happens? (1)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | about 5 years ago | (#27351145)

If the universe is infinite. It may not be (many, if not most, scientists seem to think it isn't.)

Re:It happens? (1)

Slumdog (1460213) | about 5 years ago | (#27351205)

If the universe is infinite. It may not be (many, if not most, scientists seem to think it isn't.)

It is infinite compared to our reality, just as an electron is infinitely smaller than a galaxy.

Re:It happens? (2, Funny)

Ragzouken (943900) | about 5 years ago | (#27351271)

For sufficiently finite values of infinity.

Re:It happens? (1)

Slumdog (1460213) | about 5 years ago | (#27351333)

For sufficiently finite values of infinity.

As finite as infinite can be. Interestingly in mathematical analysis it is well known that there are different levels of infinities. For example, the infinity of integers is not the same as infinity of real numbers.

Re:It happens? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351417)

The set of all integers is countably infinite. The set of all real numbers is uncountably infinite. ;)

Re:It happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351475)

Uncountable doesn't mean more infinite, it just means uncountable. One uncountable set can be more uncountable than another, based on cardinality, but infinite is infinite.

Re:It happens? (1)

ThePeices (635180) | about 5 years ago | (#27351413)

An electron *IS* infinitely small...it has zero ( mathematically zero ) size...its a point particle.

Re:It happens? (1)

Walkingshark (711886) | about 5 years ago | (#27351593)

An electron *IS* infinitely small...it has zero ( mathematically zero ) size...its a point particle.

Statements like that are why normal language shouldn't be used to coummunicate physics concepts that exist entirely in the realm of mathmatics.

Not to mention I always felt like this is most likely an artifact of the use of real numbers where integers and fractions would really serve better.

Re:It happens? (2)

WilyCoder (736280) | about 5 years ago | (#27351405)

I was looking for a reason to get wasted tonight and now I have one. Everyday might be the last day, drink up!

was million times brighter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350629)

was million times brighter

er... in soviet russia, editors grammar check you?

Universe explains USA crime problems. (-1, Troll)

zymano (581466) | about 5 years ago | (#27350679)

Black holes always seem to steal from white stars.

Huge Obama spending spree baffles rational minds (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351225)

You know things are bad when you have folks in the freaking EU telling us that we're on a financial road to hell...

Re:Huge Obama spending spree baffles rational mind (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351331)

So wait.

You're saying that the sheer mass of Obama's bailouts collapsed to form this super nova?

Wrong - not enough mass.

Re:Universe explains USA crime problems. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351699)

everyone that modded parent a troll has never been out of their basement. they have never been to a public school. they have never turned on the tv to see the news. they have never turned on a radio to listen to the news. they have never had their bicycle stolen. the truth hurts. obama being half-black doesn't change the fact that the majority of crime is being committed by blacks. i am not a racist. i point out fact. a black hole is black because it is black and NOT BECAUSE I AM RACIST FOR CALLING IT WHAT IT IS!!!!!!!!! (hahahaha. i was able to keep this on-topic. now i am waiting forever to post this because i posted less than 6 minutes ago. SLLOOOOOW.) FFaggits.

God's plan... (5, Funny)

Faizdog (243703) | about 5 years ago | (#27350689)

It wasn't supposed to go nova now, but it was part of God's plan so that our ancestors would know the way here after peeking in the Temple. They could've had more time to look around, but their enemies were right behind them.

Re:God's plan... (4, Informative)

richdun (672214) | about 5 years ago | (#27350907)

Okay, who's the genius mod who thought that was an actual religious reference? Someone needs their Geek Card confiscated.

My guess... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350763)

The scientists got a slight off line on an Exponential Equation and this caused the time theory relation to size and power to go off just alittle and make it off by a certain amount of time...

The element of chance (1)

cats2ndlife (995125) | about 5 years ago | (#27350773)

One incident in a static subsystem in isolation with the rest of the system may disprove a theory about that subsystem, but the universe is dynamic whole, so this incident doesn't say much except for what it is, a weird incident. For all I know it could have been a Death Star committing suicide by shooting at a sun 200 million years ago.

Re:The element of chance (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350903)

Or, an alien species shot a missile into Sun to collapse it for their own purposes.

Re:The element of chance (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 5 years ago | (#27350925)

...it could have been a Death Star committing suicide by shooting at a sun 200 million years ago.

Sun shot first!!!!

Something else that's huge (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350775)

Goatse [goatse.fr]

Researchers have been baffled for years trying to work out how it got that big.

Dumq question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350785)

is this the first time that we have seen a black hole created? I am just wondering if it is possible that a black hole came in behind it and caused this?

Re:Dumq question (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 5 years ago | (#27350891)

There's no such thing as a dumq question. No, I mean it. There really is no such thing.

Re:Dumq question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351675)

There's no such thing as a dumb question. No, I mean it. There really is no such thing.

However, there certainly are a lot of inquisitive idiots around here...

Darn McKay is at it again (1)

youn (1516637) | about 5 years ago | (#27350835)

I know ZPMs are rare... but he really gotta get a hold of himself. PS: I welcome our star blowing overlords... looks like you really dont wanna get on their bad side

Re:Darn McKay is at it again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350855)

"I welcome our star blowing overlords"

Porn stars will be are new overlords?
Nice.

Stars are prima donnas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350847)

This one was clearly lying about its age.

200 light years (2, Insightful)

Endo13 (1000782) | about 5 years ago | (#27350857)

But since it was 200 light years away, that means it actually happened 200 years ago, right?

Talk about old news...

Re:200 light years (5, Informative)

Dreen (1349993) | about 5 years ago | (#27350895)

200 million, not 200

Re:200 light years (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | about 5 years ago | (#27350951)

Am I the only one that is amazed that we as a species are watching events happen that are far, far outside our galaxy?

Re:200 light years (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351007)

I'm amazed you're watching things far outside your own basement.

Re:200 light years (4, Insightful)

Samah (729132) | about 5 years ago | (#27351529)

Am I the only one that is amazed that we as a species are watching events happen that are far, far outside our galaxy?

And yet our galaxy is only a miniscule fraction of the observable universe, which is also a miniscule fraction of the theoretical "entire" universe (the shape of which is still heavily debated).

To quote Douglas Adams:

The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination.

Re:200 light years (4, Informative)

WCMI92 (592436) | about 5 years ago | (#27351435)

"200 million, not 200"

Yep, had it been 200LY it would have been brighter than the moon in the sky and would have been visible even in the daytime...

200LY is seriously dangerously close to us for a supernova...

Re:200 light years (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 years ago | (#27350945)

If it were 200 light years, we would probably be all dead, since we would be hit by a very large dose of x-rays at the same time that the light arrived. Fortunately, it is (or, rather, was) 200 million light years away.

Don't throw out your textbooks yet (1, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#27350861)

FTA:

the scientists have identified a star potentially close to explosion, whose mass was estimated to be equal to 50-100 Suns. Their observations revealed that while a small part of the star's mass was "flung off" in the explosion, most of the material, according to Gal-Yam, was "drawn into the collapsing core as its gravitational pull mounted." In subsequent images taken of that region of the sky, the star does seem to have disappeared, which led the astronomers to conclude that it has, indeed, become a black hole.

The explosion of such an 'immature' star has led scientists to put existing theories of stellar evolution to doubt - "This might mean that we are fundamentally wrong about the evolution of massive stars, and that theories need revising," said Gal-Yam

How did they figure out the star's age? Without a link to the original research, this article just sounds like one picture where a bright dot is there, and another picture where they can't see it anymore. If that's all we've got, I don't see why we need to rewrite solar physics.

Re:Don't throw out your textbooks yet (2, Informative)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | about 5 years ago | (#27351011)

Stars that massive lose mass rapidly. If this star was as old as theory said it should be it couldn't be as massive as the explosion showed it to be. Oops!

Or something like that, I think.

Re:Don't throw out your textbooks yet (5, Informative)

Fallen Seraph (808728) | about 5 years ago | (#27351527)

You determine the age of a star based on several factors, but it's primarily based on the ratio of elements within the star. The life of a star is a continual struggle between the force of gravity, pulling the star inward, and the force of the fusion process taking place within the star, pushing it outward. As the fusion process continues, the hydrogen is fused into progressively heavier elements up until the point where it reaches iron. Fusing iron creates no net gain in energy, as the fusion process for iron requires more energy than is generated. By measuring the spectrum of a star, the stellar mass, ratio of elements, and other characteristics can be observed, which, coupled with existing data about stellar life cycles, and stellar classifications, can be used to determine the star's lifespan. Figuring out the lifespan of a star isn't new science, the trick here is that they believe their prior models of stellar evolution and stellar lifecycles may be incorrect. And if you actually read the article, you would understand as much because they say it in plain English toward the end.

Too early? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350863)

This thing exploded earlier than expected? Perhaps we should start underestimating the life of our own star.

Well, that clinches it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350875)

Yep, Proof of Alien life right there.

And by alien life, I mean Pierson's Puppeteers

Does a watched star explode? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350927)

Aw HELL - That damn Schroedinger.... First the cat, now the Sun! Somebody just needs to bust a cap on him so stuff will quit blowing up.

Hey.... He wasn't around a super-collider last spring, was he?

Death star (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27350931)

That's not a moon, it's a battlestation!

who knows? (1)

recharged95 (782975) | about 5 years ago | (#27350933)

Maybe some alien race discovered nuclear fusion and for some reason tested a bomb 4x the size of the Tsar bomb [wikipedia.org] that likely produced a yield of 100x Earth's version (5000MT). That would be a big "oops". Heck, this could prove not all alien races are intelligent (from a perspective).

.

.

.

Take that, science.

You know... (4, Funny)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | about 5 years ago | (#27350955)

It would really suck if a massive gamma ray burst from that supernova screwed up the rest of this pou3u7IU89&&bu*8389*(&Y(*(¥¥90øioiuuy

Uh huh... (3, Funny)

djupedal (584558) | about 5 years ago | (#27350997)

> '...Baffles Scientists'

And we all know just how difficult that can be to accomplish these days.

Ruh-roh! (5, Funny)

Unmanifest (948811) | about 5 years ago | (#27351025)

"...exploded as a supernova at a much earlier date than the one predicted by astronomers."

(eying the sun nervously)...

Re:Ruh-roh! (3, Funny)

lupine_stalker (1000459) | about 5 years ago | (#27351483)

Clearly our sun could collapse at any time. We should not wait until a potentially hostile star right on our doorsteps decides to attack!

I call for a premeptive strike to be made on the sun!

Many possibilities. (5, Insightful)

jd (1658) | about 5 years ago | (#27351125)

One is that this was a binary system, that a second star was behind the first at the time of the "pre-supernova" photo, and that they collided. Remember, they have very few photographs, are not using any data from space telescopes like SWIFT, and are therefore filling in the blanks.

We can assume that star evolution is moderately well-understood (though not completely), so if what they think is the input is inconsistent with what they know is the output, the chances are really good that the input is wrong, especially with such little data.

Another possibility. In order to get a supernova, as TFA notes, you need iron at the core of the star. There is no requirement that the iron be formed by the star, so there is no requirement that the star be at a stage in its evolution to have formed said iron. I don't know how large a rocky planet can get, but it's entirely possible to theorize of a bloody massive exoplanet made largely of iron dive-bombing a star. Depending on how close to critical the star is, it's possible to imagine such a strike giving a supermassive star severe indigestion.

There again, they may have miscalculated the distance. I believe they rely on spectral analysis to determine the relative velocity of a star and use that to infer distance, as you can't use parallax at those kinds of distances. However, if the star was getting close to critical, the spectral patterns can't necessarily be assumed to follow those of stars in better health. Further, if the star's movement was not primarily due to the expansion of space, the measured Doppler shift won't be directionally proportional to distance.

These reasons have probably been gone through and either discarded, laughed at, or even maybe put in the "improbable but should be looked at" pile, but it's very reasonable to assume the astronomers themselves have come up with many, many more possibilities, all of which could be valid based on what little is known.

And that's just it. Very little is known, unless one of the rapid-reaction space telescopes detected the explosion and took a look. TFA makes no mention of such data, but given the volume they process maybe that information hasn't been looked at yet. But I suspect the mystery won't be solvable unless such extra data does exist.

Re:Many possibilities. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351615)

200 million years ago in a galaxy far, far away...

Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!

Re:Many possibilities. (5, Informative)

AstroWeenie (937631) | about 5 years ago | (#27351669)

Sorry, but most of your ideas are far off base.

One is that this was a binary system, that a second star was behind the first at the time of the "pre-supernova" photo, and that they collided. Remember, they have very few photographs, are not using any data from space telescopes like SWIFT, and are therefore filling in the blanks.

Not correct -- they used both historical Hubble data to detect the star before it exploded and followup Hubble observations to confirm that the star has now disappeared. And they have data from the Keck Observatory with observations of the supernova. That's about as good as it gets for data.

We can assume that star evolution is moderately well-understood (though not completely), so if what they think is the input is inconsistent with what they know is the output, the chances are really good that the input is wrong, especially with such little data.

Star evolution is well understood for the bulk of the lifetimes of stars like the Sun, but there are still many questions about this sort of massive star. Such stars lose most of their mass during their lifetimes through stellar winds, which are themselves very complicated and not that well understood theoretically. And then the stars go through this luminous blue variable stage (which is what this star was before it blew up), and that is very poorly understood and is the subject of a lot of current work.

So it is in fact much more likely that this has uncovered a part of late stellar evolution of massive, luminous stars that is not correctly described by current models. We don't need any really bizarre explanation like iron planets falling into the middle of the stars. (And that wouldn't work anyway -- the planet would have to have a mass bigger than the Sun to have a big effect.)

Everybody stay calm... (4, Funny)

allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) | about 5 years ago | (#27351173)

...it's just some omnipontent aliens, building an interstellar highway. Nothing to see here... move along, and don't forget your towel.

Re:Everybody stay calm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351603)

I, for one, welcome our omnipotent, interstellar highway building, alien overlords.

I'm calling interference. (1)

E. Edward Grey (815075) | about 5 years ago | (#27351215)

A large gravitational force passing by this star might have a significant effect. The fact that only part of this star completely collapsed seems like possible evidence of ... a moving black hole?

Gratuitous Battlestar comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351235)

Those pesky Cylons are up to it again!

Easily explained (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351313)

Someone dropped a stargate into it.

Whodunit? (3, Funny)

SirLoadALot (991302) | about 5 years ago | (#27351351)

The next Slashdot poll should ask which alien race is responsible for this. I'm voting for the CowboyNealiens.

The Messiah has returned! (3, Funny)

erroneus (253617) | about 5 years ago | (#27351353)

You science people have completely missed the mark. The Messiah has come to end the world and take the faithful home!

Re:The Messiah has returned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351713)

To catch the next comet, please suicide now!

Why is this a surprise? (2, Insightful)

WCMI92 (592436) | about 5 years ago | (#27351403)

Luminous Blue Variables (like Eta Carine) are so massive and so bright that gravity can barely hold them together. Should it be such a shock that such a star might blow itself apart given their inherent instability.

Re:Why is this a surprise? (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | about 5 years ago | (#27351623)

Luminous Blue Variables (like Eta Carine) are so massive and so bright that gravity can barely hold them together. Should it be such a shock that such a star might blow itself apart given their inherent instability.

The stars likely shed a good deal of their mass to their solar wind, but there are several orders of magnitude between fusion bursts and supernovae. Kind of like the difference between 100 lbs of black powder and 100 lbs of TNT... actually its probably more like 100lbs of nuclear bomb.

Re:Why is this a surprise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351639)

Get the fuck out of here with your reasonableness, we've got science stories to write!

there goes another civilization with a Hadron size (1)

Locutus (9039) | about 5 years ago | (#27351467)

there goes another civilization with a Hadron sized super collider. Just when they thought they were on the edge of something, they collapsed into something much much much much much much smaller. ;-0

LoB

Re:there goes another civilization with a Hadron s (1)

Mister_Stoopid (1222674) | about 5 years ago | (#27351573)

That's such a shame. We could have learned a lot from a civilization advanced enough to build a super collider the size of a Hadron.

(pluS one In7ormative) (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27351511)

fly They looked of America (GNAA) b4by...don't fear

Dr Manhattan strikes again! (1)

SigmaTao (629358) | about 5 years ago | (#27351773)

U.S. Federal agencies have requested Dr Manhattan to assist them in their enquiries regarding the supernova incident, after anomalies were detected on Mars....
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