The Helix Nebula is an example of a planetary nebula, or 'planetary' formed at the end of a star's evolution. Gases from the star in the surrounding space appear, from our vantage point, as if we are looking down a helix structure. The remnant central stellar core, known as a planetary nebula nucleus or PNN, is destined to become a white dwarf star. The observed glow of the central star is so energetic that it causes the previously expelled gases to brightly fluoresce.
The Helix Nebula in the constellation of Aquarius lies about 700 light-years away, spanning about 0.8 parsecs (2.5 light-years). Recent images by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Helix Nebula are a composite of newly released images from the ACS instrument and the wide-angle images from the Mosaic Camera on the WIYN 0.9-metre telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory.
Called ASASSN-15lh, the record-breaking blast is thought to be an outstanding example of a "superluminous supernova," a recently discovered, supremely rare variety of explosion unleashed by certain stars when they die. Scientists are frankly at a loss, though, regarding what sorts of stars and stellar scenarios might be responsible for these extreme supernovae.
"It is my belief that, as for many new discoveries in science, sometimes it is best to say 'we do not know' when we do not actually know, and it may take years if not decades to unravel the mystery," said Dong in exclusive comments to The Kavli Foundation.
Fortunately, ASASSN-15lh might offer key clues to the sources of superluminous supernovae. It is amongst the closest superluminous supernovae ever beheld, at around 3.8 billion light years away, and has been subject to extensive observations.
ASASSN-15lh was first glimpsed in June 2015 by tiny, twin telescopes with 14-centimeter diameter lenses in Cerro Tololo, Chile conducting the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN), an international collaboration headquartered at The Ohio State University. (Hence ASASSN-15lh's somewhat menacing moniker.)
Dong and colleagues immediately put out word about the sighting of ASASSN-15lh in order for as much data as possible to be gathered. Multiple, far larger ground-based telescopes across the globe, as well as NASA's Swift satellite, have since taken part in an intense observing campaign that continues to this day.
Read more about the best theories for superluminous supernovae in a KIAA press release: http://ow.ly/X4JpJ
Read more: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Mars_Express/Martian_labyrinth
- BLBOwner, present
- Norwegian Mapping Authority, ViaNova IT, The Research Council of Norway, Norwegian Synchrotron Research AS,
- University of Oslo
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