Astronomers Have a New Way to Measure the Expansion of the Universe

Multiple observations of the Refsdal supernova. Credit: Kelly,et al

The cosmos is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. This cosmic acceleration is caused by dark energy, and it is a central aspect of the evolution of our universe. The rate of cosmic expansion can be expressed by a cosmological constant, commonly known as the Hubble constant, or Hubble parameter. But while astronomers generally agree this Hubble parameter exists, there is some disagreement as to its value.

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Hypervelocity Stars Teach us About Black Holes and Supernovae

An artist's conception of a hypervelocity star that has escaped the Milky Way. Credit: NASA

Hypervelocity stars (HVS) certainly live up to their name, traveling thousands of kilometers per second or a fraction of the speed of light (relativistic speeds). These speed demons are thought to be the result of galactic or black hole mergers, globular clusters kicking out members, or binary pairs where one star is kicked out when the other goes supernova. Occasionally, these stars are fast enough to escape our galaxy and (in some cases) take their planetary systems along for the ride. This could have drastic implications for our theories of how life could be distributed throughout the cosmos (aka. panspermia theory).

There are thousands of these stars in our galaxy, and tracking them has become the task of cutting-edge astrometry missions (like the ESA’s Gaia Observatory). In previous research, astronomers suggested that these stars could be used to determine the mass of the Milky Way. In a recent study from Leiden University in the Netherlands, Ph.D. candidate Fraser Evans showed how data on HVS could be used to probe the mysteries of the most extreme objects in our Universe – supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and the violent supernovae of massive stars.

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The Dark Energy Camera Captures the Remains of an Ancient Supernova

The US DOE's DECam captured this image of the tattered shell of the first-ever recorded supernova. A ring of glowing debris is all that remains of a white dwarf star that exploded more than 1800 years ago and was recorded by Chinese astronomers as a ‘guest star’. This special image, which covers an impressive 45 arcminutes on the sky, gives a rare view of the entirety of this supernova remnant. Image Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

The first written record of a supernova comes from Chinese astrologers in the year 185. Those records say a ‘guest star’ lit up the sky for about eight months. We now know that it was a supernova.

All that remains is a ring of debris named RCW 86, and astronomers working with the DECam (Dark Energy Camera) used it to examine the debris ring and the aftermath of the supernova.

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How Many Stars Formed Together With the Sun in Our Stellar Nebula?

This is a two-panel mosaic of part of the Taurus Giant Molecular Cloud, the nearest active star-forming region to Earth. The darkest regions are where stars are being born. Inside these vast clouds, complex chemicals are also forming. Image Credit: Adam Block /Steward Observatory/University of Arizona

Even though our Sun is now a solitary star, it still has siblings somewhere in the Milky Way. Stars form in massive clouds of gas called Molecular Clouds. When the Sun formed about five billion years ago, other stars would’ve formed from the same cloud, creating a star cluster.

How many other stars formed in the cluster?

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Colliding Neutron Stars can Generate Long Gamma-ray Bursts

Artist's illustration of a bright gamma-ray burst occurring in a star-forming region and beaming out energy into two narrow, oppositely directed jets. Image Credit: By NASA/Swift/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones - [1]Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by TheDJ using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,

Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) are the most energetic recurring events in the Universe. Only the Big Bang was more energetic, and it was a singularity. Astronomers see GRBs in distant Universes, and a lot of research has gone into understanding them and what causes them.

A new paper is upending some of what scientists thought they knew about these extraordinary explosions.

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Hubble saw Multiple Light Echoes Reflecting off Rings of Dust From a Supernova Explosion

Artist view of a supernova explosion. Credit: NASA

When stars reach the end of their life cycle, they experience gravitational collapse at their centers and explode in a fiery burst (a supernova). This causes them to shed their outer layers and sends an intense burst of light and high-energy short-wavelength radiation (like X-rays and gamma-rays) out in all directions. This process also creates cosmic rays, which consist of protons and atomic nuclei that are accelerated to close to the speed of light. And on rare occasions, supernovae can also create “light echoes,” rings of light that spread out from the site of the original explosion.

These echoes will appear months to years after the supernova occurs as light from the explosion interacts with the layers of dust in the vicinity. Using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), an international team of astronomers was able to document the emergence and evolution of multiple light echoes (LEs). The team traced these echoes to a stripped-envelope supernova (SN 2016adj) located in the central dust lane of Centaurus A, a galaxy located 10 to 16 million light-years away in the constellation of Centaurus.

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How Dangerous are Nearby Supernovae to Life on Earth?

A composite image of SN 1987A from Hubble, Chandra, and ALMA. Image Credit: By ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/A. Angelich. Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. X-Ray image: The NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory -, CC BY 4.0,

Life and supernovae don’t mix.

From a distance, supernovae explosions are fascinating. A star more massive than our Sun runs out of hydrogen and becomes unstable. Eventually, it explodes and releases so much energy it can outshine its host galaxy for months.

But space is vast and largely empty, and supernovae are relatively rare. And most planets don’t support life, so most supernovae probably explode without affecting living things.

But a new study shows how one type of supernova has a more extended reach than thought. And it could have consequences for planets like ours.

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Astronomers Chart the Influence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy on the Universe by Measuring Over 1,500 Supernovae

Artist view of a supernova explosion. Credit: NASA

In 2011, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Perlmutter, Schmidt, and Reiss for their discovery that the universe is not just expanding, it is accelerating. The work supported the idea of a universe filled with dark energy and dark matter, and it was based on observations of distant supernovae. Particularly, Type Ia supernovae, which have consistent light curves we can use as standard candles to measure cosmic distances. Now a new study of more than 1,500 supernovae confirms dark energy and dark matter, but also raises questions about our cosmological models.

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Astronomers Just saw the Most Powerful Gamma-ray Burst Ever Recorded

Artist’s impression of a gamma-ray burst. Credit: ESO/A. Roquette

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are one of the most mysterious transient phenomena facing astronomers today. These incredibly energetic bursts are the most powerful electromagnetic events observed since the Big Bang and can last from a few milliseconds to many hours. Whereas longer bursts are thought to occur during supernovae, when massive stars undergo gravitational collapse and shed their outer layer to become black holes, shorter events have also been recorded when massive binary objects (black holes and neutron stars) merge.

These bursts are characterized by an initial flash of gamma rays and a longer-lived “afterglow” typically emitted in X-ray, ultraviolet, radio, and other longer wavelengths. In the early-morning hours on October 14th, 2022, two independent teams of astronomers using the Gemini South telescope observed the aftermath of a GRB designated GRB221009A. Located 2.4 billion light-years away in the Sagitta constellation, this event was perhaps the closes and most powerful explosion ever recorded and was likely triggered by a supernova that gave birth to a black hole.

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Can Astronomers Predict Which Stars Are About to Explode as Supernovae?

In a recent study submitted to High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena, a team of researchers from Japan discuss strategies to observe, and possibly predict precursor signatures for an explosion from Local Type II and Galactic supernovae (SNe). This study has the potential to help us better understand both how and when supernovae could occur throughout the universe, with supernovae being the plural form of supernova (SN). But just how important is it to detect supernovae before they actually happen?

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