December 9, 2009

Stellar Collaboration Helps Astronomers to Spot an Amazing Stellar Explosion

By W. Scott Kardel Public Affairs Coordinator, Palomar Observatory, California Institute of Technology

Astronomers at recently announced that they had observed a supernova unlike any ever seen before. Supernova 2007bi is the first confirmed example of a pair-instability supernova, a type that has been theorized since the 1960s. A pair-instability supernova is created with the death of a massive, primitive star like those that are thought to have been found in the very early universe.

The supernova was discovered with data collected at Palomar Observatory and beamed to astronomers using the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN). Berkeley's Nearby Supernova Factory identified the supernova in April 2007 and quickly called in other astronomers and resources to study the event.

Image credit: Nearby Supernova Factory

For several years the SNFactory has been part of a unique collaboration that allowed them to hunt for exploding stars using the same data that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) program used to hunt for asteroids. NEAT's data was collected using Palomar Observatory's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope. The telescope was operated robotically and data was beamed away and on to JPL and Berkeley via HPWREN. This collaboration between Caltech's Palomar Observatory, JPL, Berkeley and HPWREN has led to some amazing results, like those in the recent finding that was published in the 3 December 2009 issue of Nature.

This night time long-exposure photo shows the Palomar Observatory's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope dome, with the HPWREN antenna in front of the building.

Image credit: Scott Kardel

HPWREN continues to provide high-speed data transmission for Palomar Observatory and the new Palomar Transient Factory survey, which will likely find more events such as SN2007 conditions of the early universe.

The full press release can be obtained here: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/press-releases/2009/12/02/superbright-supernova/

Main HPWREN web site (includes information for acknowledgments/disclaimers and feedback/contact)