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Herschel Spectroscopy of Future Supernova

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the that's-a-big-star dept.

Space 21

davecl writes "ESA's Herschel Space Telescope has released its first spectroscopic results. These include observations of VYCMa, a star 50 times as massive as the sun and soon to become a supernova, as well as a nearby galaxy, more distant colliding starburst galaxies and a comet in our own solar system. The spectra show more lines than have ever been seen in these objects in the far-infrared and will allow astronomers to work out the detailed chemistry and physics behind star and planet formation as well as the last stages of stellar evolution before VYCMa's eventual collapse into a supernova. More coverage is available at the Herschel Mission Blog, which I run."

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Herschel Spectroscopy of Past Supernova (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#30255600)

Isn't that supernova really in the past if we see it go kablooie soon?

Re:Herschel Spectroscopy of Past Supernova (2, Interesting)

spineboy (22918) | more than 4 years ago | (#30255666)

Yes, but it WILL have gone kablooey - which is the cool part.

Actually what the cool part is, is that they are detecting so many compounds (complex organic ones too) in the stars ejected gas shell. They think that this type of star seeds/forms other stars and planets with higher weight elements and complex compounds. Another step in the understanding how life came about.

Is astronomy really science? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30255766)

I mean, they can't do experiments, only make observations. Sounds like what Rutherford called stamp-collecting.

Re:Is astronomy really science? (2, Informative)

chebucto (992517) | more than 4 years ago | (#30255792)

They can do some experiments, at least in the astrophysics branch of the science (I recall jetliners with atomic clocks being used to test time dilation). Not to mention some of the planetary exploration robots, or that recent bombardment of the moon (which let us detect water there).

But generally, you are right - most of astronomy is dedicated to observation. Astronomers basically work out theories based on empirical observation of natural phenomena, which is as strong a foundation as any other hard science. And while experimentation may be part of some definitions of science, that seems more like a problem with the definitions than with astronomy.

Re:Is astronomy really science? (2, Informative)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30255986)

The jetliner experiment isn't just astronomy - it's a test of general relativity, which is just like testing a basic principle like F=ma.

People might think twice when they attack the string theorists for not having experimental evidence for their theories. They do in fact have an infinite number of theories which get rid of the divergences that occur in quantum gravity, so give them some credit for that.

Re:Is astronomy really science? (2, Insightful)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#30255880)

Science is the ability to formulate hypothesis and test them against experiments or observations (or both). So yes, astrophysics is a science.

Another way of looking at it (3, Insightful)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256480)

An experiment is a prediction of something whose result is not yet proven. Just as in, say, chemistry, you can make predictions and test them with an experiment, so for astronomy. You make a prediction about what will be observed under certain conditions. The experiment requires better telescopes to test, so 20 years later, when Hubble comes along, you test the predicted outcome, and possibly disprove the prediction. Or maybe you only need to make a new observation which no one has made yet to test your idea.

It may not be a classic mix-and-watch experiment, but it seems like one to me.

Re:Herschel Spectroscopy of Past Supernova (1)

tuxicle (996538) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256076)

Wouldn't the cool part be that we can see a supernova go kablooey in our lifetime? I wonder if this one would be close enough to see with the naked eye.

Re:Herschel Spectroscopy of Past Supernova (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30262454)

Wouldn't the cool part be that we can see a supernova go kablooey in our lifetime? I wonder if this one would be close enough to see with the naked eye.

That has happened at least twice in the last few years. A 1999 GRB was associated with a magnitude 8 optical transient at 14 seconds after detection, which bodes well for it being naked eye visible ; one last year (IIRC, and currently a record-holder for distance and brightness) peaked at about magnitude 6, so again was almost certainly naked eye visible.

Oh, you wanted something that'd be naked-eye visible for more than a few seconds. Well, if you'd asked for that first off ... I'll just hyperwave to the fire-stirring crew around Eta Carinae and get them to light the blue touch paper to set that one off 10,000-odd years ago. That should put the shock wave and radiation cone from the hypernova just tickling our location. That'll make life exciting, not knowing if the radiation blast will be intense enough to sterilise the planet through the atmosphere, and if it'll last long enough to cover the whole globe and penetrate deeply enough into the subsurface to sterilise that too.

Be careful what you wish for ; you might just get it.

Re:Herschel Spectroscopy of Past Supernova (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 4 years ago | (#30255786)

Nope. There's no single 'past' or 'present' in the Universe.

It's a future Supernova from _our_ point of view.

Re:Herschel Spectroscopy of Past Supernova (1)

digitalunity (19107) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256902)

Wrong. The media, and even oftentimes scientists talk about time from our infinitesimally minuscule point of perception. In truth, for the majority of the universe time marches on in what is thought to be at a constant pace.

This of course ignores time dilation. The fact remains though that most of what we see in our telescopes happened millions or billions of years ago.

Lots of hot water (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30255726)

You can really see stars as the engines of life, not just as the energy source, but the source of our building materials. We are made of stardust as Carl Sagan used to say.

Interesting notes from the article referring to the PACS and Spire instruments.


The SPIRE spectrum, a portion of which is shown (Fig. 1 right), has prominent features from carbon monoxide (CO) and water (H2O).

Many of the features are due to water, showing that the star is surrounded by large quantities of hot steam.

In the PACS spectral range, more than 400 spectral lines of which more than 270 are water lines have been detected. The envelope of VY CMa resembles nuclear power plants on Earth, where water is used to cool the environment of the central engine.

VYCMa (5, Funny)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256032)

Planet, there's a place you can go,
I said, planet, when your velocity's low,
You can orbit, and I'm sure you will see,
A supernova for you and me.

It's fun to orbit VYCMa,
It's fun to orbit VYCMa,
They have everything that you need to enjoy,
Being utterly destroyed.

Re:VYCMa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30257124)

"golf clap"

SPIRE (3, Interesting)

digitrev (989335) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256074)

Heh. Nice to see results from this. I just did some work related to SPIRE in Summer 08. Namely, some nonlinearities with regards to bolometers (the type of detector used on SPIRE). Just some coop work, but it's kind of nice to see a project you worked on get some nice results. Unfortunately, you can't see the effects of my work because they only show up as second and third harmonics, and the data here doesn't show enough to see it.

Soon? (1)

K8Fan (37875) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256534)

...soon to become a supernova...

When they say "soon" is that "soon" in cosmic terms, like say within 10,000 years, or "soon" as within my lifetime?

Re:Soon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30256718)

Use your intuition.

Only one place where you can get this answer... (2, Funny)

thijsh (910751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30257198)

No instead use a proper formula to calculate the time by utilizing the gravitational pull of a planet in the field of reference. In this case you could pull the answer out of Uranus.

Just think about it.. (2, Insightful)

Rexdude (747457) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256712)

FTFA, it says that the star in question is 4900 light years away. To really understand what that means- the image of the star as we see it today left from it close to 5000 years ago, when the career prospects for laying 50 ton stone blocks were quite high in the Nile delta. For all we know, it might have gone supernova already at any point within the last 5000 years, and if we could instantly teleport to its location now we may actually just see the white dwarf remnant. Which means what we're observing may well be what once was, and not what currently is.
Starlight is the closest we can get to time travel, in a way. To look at it another way, Betelgeuse is 640 light years away; if anyone could observe Earth from there now with telescopes (!!), they would see us as we were during the middle ages, with the Black Plague sweeping across Europe.

Re:Just think about it.. (2, Interesting)

digitalunity (19107) | more than 4 years ago | (#30256924)

I've considered that many times before. If you could instantly travel 60 million light years from earth and take a massive telescope with you, dinosaurs would be visible!

Unrealistic for a lot of reasons, I know. It's still fun to think about though.

Re:Just think about it.. (1)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 4 years ago | (#30260018)

more importantly, if i could travel at least forty-six light years out and set up a really huge antenna, i could recover the lost episodes of doctor who!
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