Supernovae key to universe’s secrets

Tuesday

The huge mass of the cluster and one of the galaxies within it is bending the light from a supernova behind them and creating four separate images of the supernova. The light has been magnified and distorted due to gravitational lensing and as a result the images are arranged around the elliptical galaxy in a formation known as an Einstein cross. Courtesy Hubble/EESA.

The Large Magellanic Cloud in March 1987, when the marked supernova was clearly visible to the unaided eye. Picture: Martin George

AMATEUR star-gazers are being urged to get involved in a large-scale hunt for exploding stars that can help measure the growth of the universe.

The Australian National University has launched a project that will harness people power to speed up the search for supernovae.

Astrophysicists use these explosions — which are as bright as 100 million billion billion

billion lightning bolts — to measure the universe and the acceleration of its growth.

They can work out how far away the dying star is by how quickly it fades.

“Using exploding stars as markers all across the universe, we can measure how the universe is growing and what it’s doing,” said Dr Brad Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“We can then use that information to better understand dark energy, the cause of the

universe’s acceleration.”

Citizen scientists will be able to use a web portal on Zooniverse.org to search images taken by the 1.3-metre SkyMapper telescope.

A NASA and European Space Agency composite made from 18 separate images taken using the Hubble Space Telescope providing a detailed look at the tattered remains of a supernova explosion known as Cassiopeia A (Cas A) from 29 August 2006.

A NASA and European Space Agency composite made from 18 separate images taken using the Hubble Space Telescope providing a detailed look at the tattered remains of a supernova explosion known as Cassiopeia A (Cas A) from 29 August 2006.Source:AP

The university is hoping to encourage people to scan the SkyMapper images online to look for differences and mark those differences for the researchers to follow up.

“With the power of the people, we can check these images in minutes and get another telescope to follow up,” he said. “Thousands of passionate people can achieve things that would take scientists working alone years to do.”

Co-lead researcher Dr Anais Möller said SkyMapper is taking thousands of new images of

the southern sky every month for the supernova search project.

“The first people who identify an object that turns out to be a supernova will be publicly

recognised as co-discoverers,” said Dr Möller. “SkyMapper is the only telescope that is doing a comprehensive survey of the southern sky looking for supernovae and other interesting transient events at these distances.

“We are examining an area 10,000 times larger than the full moon every week. As well as

finding Type Ia supernovae, which we use to measure how the universe is expanding, we

will also find other types of supernovae that change in brightness with time — ranging from a

couple of weeks to months.

“If we discover supernovae early, we have a good chance of understanding them, as well as having better measurements for the expansion of the universe.”

SkyMapper is telescope creating a full record of the southern sky for astronomers from the ANU Siding Spring Observatory for the SkyMapper Transient Survey.

Join the search for exploding stars at the ANU citizen science project .

Today’s new telescopes are among the most advanced ever built: triumphs of ambition and design, engineered to function perfectly in some of the harshest places on Earth – and beyond.

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