Astronomers have spotted what seems to be the brightest supernova ever discovered: an exploding star that shines brighter than 500 billion Suns. Don’t go looking for it with binoculars though: its light has taken 2.8 billion years to travel to Earth and, at such a distance, the supernova is only visible through a telescope.
The ASASSN-15lh supernova was first picked up on 14 June by two telescopes operated by the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. In reports posted on the Astronomer’s Telegram — an online bulletin service — on 8 July, astronomers led by Subo Dong at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University in Beijing report that they caught it about nine days after its brightness peaked. The team have also posted a report at the arXiv preprint server (http://arxiv.org/abs/1507.03010)1.
Using larger telescopes to follow up the sighting, Dong and his colleagues from the United States and Chile estimate that the stellar explosion is the most extreme instance yet of a superluminous supernova. A few dozen of these enormous blasts, one hundred times brighter than ordinary supernovae, have been spotted in the past decade — and ASASSN-15lh is about twice as bright as any of them.
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