for National Geographic News
Scientists have spotted the brightest supernova yet—a star explosion that at its peak was a hundred billion times brighter than the sun.
Robert Quimby, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, discovered the spectacle in 2005 using a small robotic telescope at McDonald Observatory in West Texas.
But only recently did he calculate the true power of the supernova, known as 2005ap.
The explosion is 300 times brighter than average and is the most luminous supernova ever identified, Quimby said.
"It's amazing to me that after decades of in-depth studies, the brightest and seemingly most obvious supernovae are still being found," he added.
2005ap lies about 4.7 billion light-years away in a dwarf galaxy in the constellation Coma Berenices, behind the famous Coma cluster of galaxies.
The new find is a Type II supernova. These explosions are thought to occur when the cores of massive stars—more than seven times as heavy as the sun—collapse under their own weight and trigger an explosion.
A study on the supernova will appear in the October 20 edition of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Two in a Row
For Quimby, the discovery is almost a hat trick.
The new supernova is roughly twice as bright as the previous record holder, SN 2006gy—which he also found. (Related: "'Brightest Supernova Ever' Reveals New Kind of Star Death [May 8, 2007].)
Quimby discovered that explosion last year while working on the Texas Supernova Search project, part of his doctoral degree program at the University of Texas.
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