Thursday, August 5, 2021

Five supernovas are discovered among the data from the retired Spitzer telescope

Although supernovas are among the most energetic events in the universe and astronomers know how to estimate how many should be detected by telescopes, they are not very easy to find. The discrepancy between model prediction and observations has bothered scientists for some time, but a new study has just pinpointed the problem and shown a way to solve it.

 One of the obstacles to observing supernovae is cosmic dust, formed by small particles that form gigantic, opaque clouds. It is these clouds that give rise to the new stars, but a very "dusty" region also hinders observation, because these particles absorb and scatter visible light. However, this does not happen with infrared light, and this was the trump card of the authors of the new study.

 To find out whether infrared light would allow them to find "hidden" supernovae, the researchers decided to look at data from the Spitzer mission, a retired NASA telescope that specializes in this wavelength. In looking for possible candidates, the team selected a set of 40 luminous infrared (LIRGs) and ultraluminous (ULIRGs) galaxies, and ended up finding five supernovae that had gone unnoticed in optical light. 

The Arp 148 galaxy, captured by NASA's Spitzer and Hubble telescopes, and a supernova discovered by the new study highlighted inside the white circle.

 (Image: Reproduction/NASA/JPL-Ccaltech)

 According to scientists Ori Fox, lead author of the study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, "These results with Spitzer show that the optical research we have long relied on to detect supernovae misses up to half of the stellar explosions that happen. in the universe". 

The good news is that astronomers will now know how to look for supernovae in other galaxies in the future. Another positive point of the finding is that the amount of supernova found brings observations closer to the predictions of star formation models. Scientists may now be digging even further into Spitzer's data looking for other candidates for star bursts, but the best part is that next-generation telescopes — like the Nancy Grace Roman and James Webb — will also be great star detectors. infrared light.

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