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As Bright as Half a Trillion Suns

Posted January 15, 2016 9:33 AM by Bayes

Most Luminous Supernova Ever Detected

There's an interesting story going around the internet this morning regarding the most luminous Supernova ever detected. A peer reviewed paper in the journal Science is reporting the discovery of ASASSN-15lh (SN 2015L) in a large quiescent (inactive) galaxy. Usually super-luminous supernovae reside in active star-forming dwarf galaxies so this discovery is unique in many ways.

Here is the abstract from the Science Paper:

We report the discovery of ASASSN-15lh (SN 2015L), which we interpret as the most luminous supernova yet found. At redshift z = 0.2326, ASASSN-15lh reached an absolute magnitude of Mu,AB = -23.5 ± 0.1 and bolometric luminosity Lbol = (2.2 ± 0.2) × 1045 ergs s-1, which is more than twice as luminous as any previously known supernova. It has several major features characteristic of the hydrogen-poor super-luminous supernovae (SLSNe-I), whose energy sources and progenitors are currently poorly understood. In contrast to most previously known SLSNe-I that reside in star-forming dwarf galaxies, ASASSN-15lh appears to be hosted by a luminous galaxy (MK ≈ -25.5) with little star formation. In the 4 months since first detection, ASASSN-15lh radiated (1.1 ± 0.2) × 1052 ergs, challenging the magnetar model for its engine.

If you're interested in reading a less technical version, an article on the discovery can be found here:

http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/14/10769296/supernova-super-bright-collapsed-star-hubble-telescope

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Re: As Bright as Half a Trillion Suns

01/15/2016 12:29 PM

Is there any chance that the radiation from this thing is directional (as from spinning black holes) and we just happen to lie in the beam? If this were the case, the luminosity calculation would be lower than if the radiation were assumed to be omnidirectional.

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Re: As Bright as Half a Trillion Suns

01/15/2016 12:47 PM

That's an interesting question. I haven't heard of anything like that before with respect to supernovae, but if there are strong magnetic fields involved, and there are, then I don't think it's out of the question. Certainly and interesting conjecture. We will have to wait and see.

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Re: As Bright as Half a Trillion Suns

01/18/2016 6:18 PM

In case anyone is wondering, the supernova is in the constellation Indus. It's location in the sky is roughy 22h right ascension and -61.5 degrees declination.

That puts it well south of the celestial equator. It transits the meridian about 2 hours after local noon.

Observers in the Southern hemisphere (e.g., Sydney, Australia) can see it (i.e., photograph it) after 8 PM local time, but an extremely large telescope will be needed - one with a diameter of at least a meter. In September it was at magnitude 18.2 and slowly fading.

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