Hubble Telescope Breaks Record in Finding Most Distant Type Ia Supernova

Article written: 4 Apr , 2013
Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
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Astronomers just keep honing their skills and refining their techniques to get the most out of their telescopes. Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have now broken the record for the most distant Type Ia supernova ever imaged. This supernova is over 10 billion light-years away, with a redshift of 1.914. When this star exploded 10 billion years ago, the Universe was in its early formative years and stars were being born at a rapid rate.

“This new distance record holder opens a window into the early Universe, offering important new insights into how these supernovae form,” said astronomer David O. Jones of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., lead author on the science paper detailing the discovery. “At that epoch, we can test theories about how reliable these detonations are for understanding the evolution of the Universe and its expansion.”

These three frames show the supernova dubbed SN UDS10Wil, or SN Wilson, the most distant Type Ia supernova ever detected. The leftmost frame in this image shows just the supernova’s host galaxy, before the violent explosion. The middle frame shows the galaxy after the supernova had gone off, and the third frame indicates the brightness of the supernova alone. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (STScI and JHU), and D. Jones and S. Rodney (JHU)

These three frames show the supernova dubbed SN UDS10Wil, or SN Wilson, the most distant Type Ia supernova ever detected. The leftmost frame in this image shows just the supernova’s host galaxy, before the violent explosion. The middle frame shows the galaxy after the supernova had gone off, and the third frame indicates the brightness of the supernova alone. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (STScI and JHU), and D. Jones and S. Rodney (JHU)

Designated as SN UDS10Wil (and nicknamed SN Wilson after American President Woodrow Wilson (president from 1913-1921), the distant supernova was part of a three-year Hubble program to survey faraway Type Ia supernovae and determine whether they have changed during the 13.8 billion years since the explosive birth of the universe. Since 2010, the CANDELS+CLASH Supernova Project has uncovered more than 100 supernovae of all types that exploded from 2.4 to over 10 billion years ago.

The previous record holder for Type Ia was announced earlier this year, a supernova that exploded around 9 billion years ago and has a redshift of 1.7. Although SN Wilson is only 4 percent more distant than the previous record holder, it pushes roughly 350 million years farther back in time.

The most distant supernovae ever are a pair of super-luminous supernovae, at redshifts of 2.05 and 3.90, announced in November 2012. Read about that discovery here.

Astronomers took advantage of the sharpness and versatility of Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to search for supernovae in near-infrared light and verify their distance with spectroscopy. These bright beacons are prized by astronomers because they can be used as a yardstick for measuring cosmic distances, thereby yielding clues to the nature of dark energy, the mysterious force accelerating the rate of expansion of the Universe.

Additionally, finding remote supernovae provides a powerful method to measure the universe’s accelerating expansion.

“The Type Ia supernovae give us the most precise yardstick ever built, but we’re not quite sure if it always measures exactly a yard,” said team member Steve Rodney of Johns Hopkins University. “The more we understand these supernovae, the more precise our cosmic yardstick will become.”

Read the team’s paper: The Discovery of the Most Distant Known Type Ia Supernova at Redshift 1.914

Sources: NASA, ESA

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5 Responses

  1. Zoutsteen from Holland says

    Why only 1 supernova? At 10bn ly i should expect that every degree of space should be blinking. Hubble’s Deep field contained 10.000 galaxies … at an average of our own galaxy of one nova per 100 years, that would be 100 novas per year or 1 every 3 days, average.
    And probably more considering 10bn ly ago there were a lot more galaxies forming with Massive suns than there currently is.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      That is a good question!

      It turns out they are hitting the constraints of the formation process:

      “The team’s preliminary evidence shows a sharp decline in the rate of Type Ia supernova blasts between roughly 7.5 billion years ago and more than 10 billion years ago. The steep drop-off favors the merger of two white dwarfs because it predicts that most stars in the early universe are too young to become Type Ia supernovae.”

      [ http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-04/nsfc-hbr040413.php ]

      So interestingly, at least for me who just read about these scenarios, they are able to place larger likelihoods on the dwarf merger scenario.

  2. ozonator says

    What was the exact date in December 2010 SN UDS10Wil was discovered?

  3. The Latinist says

    This article says that the supernova in question is 10 billion light years away and that it exploded 10 billion years ago. Both cannot be true. Assuming your figure for redshift is correct, the actual distance to this supernova is closer to 17 billion light years.

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