Astronomers Catch The Brightest Supernova Ever Seen

by : Lucy Connolly on : 14 Apr 2020 18:58
Astronomers Catch The Brightest Supernova Ever SeenAstronomers Catch The Brightest Supernova Ever SeenAaron Geller/Northwestern University

Astronomers have identified the brightest and most energetic supernova ever seen.

The supernova, dubbed SN2016aps, is at least twice as bright as any that have previously been recorded and likely much bigger too, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham.

The team of astronomers, which also includes experts from Harvard, Northwestern University and Ohio University, believe the event could be an example of an extremely rare ‘pulsational pair-instability’ supernova.


Such an event would see the supernova formed from two massive stars that merged before the explosion, and so far only exists in theory, having never been confirmed through astronomical observations before.

Reporting their findings in Nature Astronomy, the team confirmed they had observed the explosion for two years until it faded to 1% of its ‘peak brightness’, using their data to understand the supernova and estimate its properties.

The astronomers calculated the mass of the supernova to be between 50 and 100 times greater than that of the sun (solar masses), a figure much higher than your typical supernovae, which usually have between eight and 15 solar masses.


Dr Matt Nicholl, lead author of the study and professor at the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham, said they can measure supernovae using two scales: ‘The total energy of the explosion, and the amount of that energy that is emitted as observable light or radiation.’


He added:

In a typical supernova, the radiation is less than 1% of the total energy. But in SN2016aps, we found the radiation was five times the explosion energy of a normal-sized supernova. This is the most light we have ever seen emitted by a supernova.


For the supernova to become this bright, the explosion must have been much more energetic than usual. Upon inspection, the team found that the explosion was in fact powered by a collision between the supernova and a massive shell of gas – shed by the star in the years before it exploded.

Dr Nicholl continued:

If the supernova gets the timing right, it can catch up to this shell and release a huge amount of energy in the collision. We think this is one of the most compelling candidates for this process yet observed, and probably the most massive.

brightest supernova everbrightest supernova everAaron Geller/Northwestern University

Co-author of the study, Professor Edo Berger, from Harvard University, said the discovery of the ‘extraordinary’ supernova ‘couldn’t have come at a better time’.

Now the team knows ‘such energetic explosions’ do occur, Berger said astronomers will be able to see similar events that are ‘so far away we can look back in time to the deaths of the very first stars in the Universe’.

Incredible. Is anybody else feeling a little bit star-struck?

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Science, Astronomy, Harvard, Nature, Research, Supernova, University of Birmingham


Nature Astronomy and 1 other
  1. Nature Astronomy

    An extremely energetic supernova from a very massive star in a dense medium

  2. Birmingham University

    Scientists discover supernova that outshines all others