Department of Physics Captures Photos of Supernova 2020jfo
“Supernovae are discovered quite frequently now,” explained Melissa Halford, a lecturer in the Department of Physics. “This supernova is supernova 2020jfo. At first, supernovae only had one letter associated with them - for example, a famous supernova was supernova 1987A, the first supernova observed in the year 1987. As technology got better, a single letter was no longer sufficient to count all of the supernovae discovered in a year. So, astronomers added a second letter and then a third. Now, thousands are discovered every year.”
What exactly is a supernova?
“A type II supernova happens at the end of a massive star’s life,” Halford said. “Stars are powered by the fusion of light elements into heavier ones in their cores. Eventually, the star runs out of fuel and the core can no longer support itself against gravity. The layers of the star fall inward and rebound, causing an explosion.”
This supernova is located in the M61 Galaxy, a spiral galaxy in the Virgo constellation, which is more than 52 million light years away.
“One light-year is the distance light travels in one year. To see anything, we need to collect light from it. For something at a distance of 52 million light-years, it would have taken 52 million years for the light to reach us. So, if we see a supernova today, the supernova happened 52 million years ago,” she shared.
Images were captured from the rooftop telescope terrace on the Leach Science Center. The telescopes were part of a new 62,500 square-foot addition that provides students with an opportunity to operate state-of-the-art telescopes directly from a classroom on the third floor. Images this like supernova will help students to learn more about our universe.
“Type II supernovae don’t all behave in exactly the same way, so studying a large number of them helps astronomers better understand the physics of what is happening in these explosions,” she said. “This requires watching them over time in different wavelengths (colors) of light to see how they brighten and fade.”
Halford discussed why observations like this one are important.
“More observations of supernovae like this one will help us better understand how they work,” Halford added. “This one in particular is interesting because it was caught relatively early, while it was still getting brighter.”