Indian researchers study rare supernova that shines with borrowed energy source


Representative image of a supernova. Photo: WikiImages / Pixabay

New Delhi: Indian researchers study an extremely bright, hydrogen-deficient, rapidly evolving supernova that glows with energy borrowed from an exotic type of neutron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field.

An in-depth study of these ancient space objects can help unravel the mysteries of the early universe, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) said.

Supernovae (SNe) are highly energetic explosions of “dead stars” in the universe. Superluminous supernovae (SLSNe) among them are very rare. Indeed, they usually come from very massive stars (the minimum mass limit is more than 25 times that of the sun), and the distribution of these massive stars in our galaxy or in nearby galaxies is sparse.

These ancient objects are among the least understood SNe because their underlying sources are unclear and their extremely high peak brightness is unexplained, the DST said.

SN 2020ank, first discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility on January 19, 2020, has been studied by scientists at the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) Nainital, a research institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), starting in February 2020 and then through the coronavirus lockdown phase of March and April, the DST said.

The SNe’s apparent appearance was very similar to other objects in the field. However, once the brightness was estimated, it turned out to be a very blue object reflecting its brighter character, he said.

The team observed it using special arrangements at India’s recently commissioned Devasthal Optical Telescope and two other Indian telescopes: the Sampurnanand Telescope and the Himalayan Chandra Telescope.

They found that the outer layers of the onion-structured supernovae had peeled off and the core was glowing with a borrowed energy source, he added.

The study, led by Amit Kumar, a doctoral student working under the supervision of SB Pandey, and published in the Monthly notice from the Royal Astronomical Society, suggested that its power could be an exotic type of neutron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field – i.e. a magnetar – with a total ejected mass of about 3.6 to 7.2 times the mass of the sun, the DST said.

Further investigation could explore the underlying physical mechanisms, possible progenitors and environments harboring such rare explosions and their possible associations with other energetic explosions such as gamma-ray bursts and rapid radio bursts, the DST said.


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