Queen’s astronomer leads international team to ground-breaking fiery explosion in a distant galaxy
Astronomers at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered a new type of fiery explosion in a distant galaxy.
The explosion, called PS1-10adi, seems to prefer active galaxies that house supermassive black holes consuming the gas and material around them.
Leading an international team of researchers, Dr Erkki Kankare, from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s, is lead author of the study which has been published in Nature Astronomy. Dr Rubina Kotak, Professor Stephen Smartt and Dr Ken Smith from Queen’s are co-authors of the study, which is advancing knowledge in this area on a global scale.
Using telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii, Dr Kankare detected an explosion that was so energetic, it must have originated from one of two sources: an extremely massive star – up to several hundred times more massive than our Sun – exploding as a supernova, or from a lower mass star that has been shredded by the ultra-strong gravitational forces close to the supermassive black hole.
The explosion was discovered 2010, but due to its slow evolution, it could be monitored for several years.
Explaining the findings, Dr Kankare commented: “If these explosions are tidal disruption events - where a star gets sufficiently close to a supermassive black hole's event horizon and is shredded by the strong gravitational forces - then its properties are such that it would be a brand new type of tidal disruption event. If they are supernova explosions then their properties are more extreme than we have ever observed before, and are likely connected to the central environments of the host galaxies.
The supernova group at Queen’s University Belfast has long-standing expertise in supernova science and were immediately able to recognise PS1-10adi as an unusual transient. The team has also discovered at least five more candidates worthy of further study.
Dr Rubina Kotak, co-author of the study, commented: “Now that we know what we are looking for, we are particularly excited that we will find more transients such as PS1-10adi in larger datasets from upcoming facilities. This means that we are in a fantastic position to pin down their origin, and this will help to piece together more clues of how these events come about.”
The international team included research institutes from Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Chile, and the US.