Quirks & Quarks

Super-duper supernova

Astronomers discover a super-supernova, brighter than 500 billion suns

The largest supernova ever seen stretches physical explanations

An artist's impression of the superluminous supernova as it would appear from an exoplanet located about 10,000 light years away. (Beijing Planetarium / Jin Ma)
Ordinary supernovae are huge stellar explosions that occur at the end of a large star's lifetime, and are bright enough to be seen at enormous distances across the universe. Super-luminous supernovae are similar, but unique conditions around the exploding star lead to an explosion twenty times brighter than an ordinary supernova.

Recently, however, the team running the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae, or ASASSN, spotted an even more super super-luminous supernova that was two hundred times brighter than an ordinary supernova, as bright as 570 billion suns.

According to Dr. Christopher Kochanek from Department of Astronomy at Ohio State University, and a member of the team, this event occurred when a rapidly rotating star collapsed into a super-powerful spinning neutron star, or "magnetar". But even then, it comes very close to stretching the limits of the physics of how bright such an event could be.

Related Links

Paper in Science
AsASSn-15lh - the most powerful supernova
- Ohio State University release
- Carnegie Institution release
- Scientific American story
CBC News/AP story
- BBC News story