An international group of astronomers was able to observe the most distant supernova ever detected, which occurred 10.5 billion years ago when the universe was still very young. The cataclysmic explosion is named DES16C2nm and was reported in the latest issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
The event is classified as a superluminous supernova (SLSN), the brightest and rarest of all known supernova types. It is at least 10 times brighter than the standard supernova and researchers believe it was caused by material falling onto a neutron star until it collapsed under its own weight. This event took place when the universe was only 3.3 billion years old.
"It's thrilling to be part of the survey that has discovered the oldest known supernova. DES16C2nm is extremely distant, extremely bright, and extremely rare – not the sort of thing you stumble across every day as an astronomer," lead author of the study Dr Mathew Smith, of the University of Southampton, said in a statement. "As well as being a very exciting discovery in its own right, the extreme distance of DES16C2nm gives us a unique insight into the nature of SLSN."
The researchers used the light from the explosion to understand what kind of elements were produced in these events and the temperatures at which they occurred. They hope to better characterize this type of supernova, which has only been known about for the last 15 years.
DES16C2nm was detected by the Dark Energy Survey, an international collaboration that’s mapping the position of several hundred million galaxies in three-dimensional space to learn about the properties of dark energy. Dark energy is believed to be responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe.
"Such supernovae were not thought of when we started DES over a decade ago. Such discoveries show the importance of empirical science; sometimes you just have to go out and look up to find something amazing," co-author Professor Bob Nichol, from the University of Portsmouth, added.
The survey covers an area of the sky measuring 5,000 square degrees, an area equivalent to 25,000 times the full Moon in the sky. The team is now going to look for more of these events in the survey.
"Finding more distant events, to determine the variety and sheer number of these events, is the next step," co-author Professor Mark Sullivan, also of the University of Southampton, commented.
Over 400 researchers from more than 25 institutions are involved in the Dark Energy Survey, which started in 2013 and will conclude later this year.