The James Webb telescope photographed a supernova explosion. Why is it important?

The observable universe is filled with stars. The most massive of them produce the chemical elements necessary to create everything that we see around us. The cores of these cosmic bodies contain fusion products, converting simple elements like hydrogen into heavier elements like carbon and nitrogen. These building blocks of life are ejected during supernova explosions, a process during which stars increase in brightness by 10 to 20 magnitudes and then gradually fade, creating a nebula. So stars, whose mass is 8-10 times the mass of the Sun, leave behind the densest objects in the universe – black holes. Sometimes supernova explosions are so bright that they outshine galaxies for days or months. Surprisingly, in the very near future we will learn a lot about these events: the James Webb space telescope recently photographed the very first supernova in the universe, although this observatory is not designed for such observations.

A supernova is the largest explosion that man has ever seen.

Universum factory

The James Webb space telescope has only recently begun work, but has already sent the latest data on the observable universe to Earth: on July 12, 2022, the whole world looked at amazing images of a cluster of galaxies located five billion light years from Earth. Another capture by the observatory was the so-called star nursery The region of space where stars are born. All this information was obtained a few days after the start of a full-fledged work.

Recently, as astronomers expected, a space telescope broke its own record by discovering the most distant galaxy in the universe called SDSS.J141930.11+5251593. This “old woman” is located at a distance of 3 to 4 billion light years from our planet. It is true, after observing the object for five days, the scientists came to the conclusion that not looking at the galaxy – in front of them flashed a supernova. It was possible to confirm the guess with the help of archival data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Кстати, недавно Хаббл сфотографировал звезду возрастом почти 13 миллиардов лет! О том, как это было можно прочитать здесь!

An artist’s view of a supernova explosion

And here’s the most surprising thing: the object observed by Webb turned out to be the first supernova to appear in the vastness of the universe. At the same time, the telescope itself is not designed for such tasks, and its main goal is to scan large areas of the sky and observe galaxy clusters. This means that the space observatory will see the youngest galaxies in the universe, which formed a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

If we combine the obtained data on galaxies with the discovered supernova, we can enjoy the view of the first generation of stars that lit up the universe after the Dark Ages. The composition of the youngest stars, according to astronomers, is much simpler than the composition of stars born in later eras.

In the vastness of the infinite universe, nothing is eternal

We believe that stars in the first million years were mostly hydrogen and helium, unlike the stars we see today, says astronomer Mike Engesser to Inverse.

Supernovae are difficult to detect because the explosion itself lasts a fraction of a second. The bright bubble of dust and gas generated by the death of massive stars disappears after a few days. For this reason, astronomical instruments must look in the right direction at the right time.

Больше по теме: Взрыв сверхновой мог стать причиной массового вымирания на Земле

young and old stars

In galaxies like ours, supernova explosions are rare. Fortunately, there is an unlimited number of galaxies in the universe, and so astronomers observe several hundred supernovae a year outside the Milky Way. To search for such stars, NASA uses several types of telescopes, including the NuSTAR space observatory (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which has been in operation since 2012.

But back to the galaxy SDSS.J141930.11+5251593, which hosts the youngest supernova. Webb observed it for five days and found that the massive star had dimmed slightly in the intervening time. This behavior is considered typical of supernovae, and their discovery could open up a whole new area of ​​astronomical research.

The Crab Nebula is a remnant of a massive star in our galaxy, whose death occurred at a distance of 6500 light years from Earth.

Чем массивнее звезда, тем больше энергии она выбрасывает в окружающее космическое пространство.

Interestingly, the first supernova visible to the naked eye in over 400 years was the explosion of a massive star called SN 1987A, discovered in 1987. For several months it flashed with incredible power and allowed astronomers to study itself in detail. Now, with the help of the James Webb Observatory, scientists intend to analyze the remnants of the eruption and shed light on exactly what happened after the death of the star.

SN 1987A exploded in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way. SN 1987A, located about 167,000 light-years from Earth, was the closest supernova to us in recent centuries.

Note that supernovae play a critical role in the evolution of galaxies and create heavier elements (which make up everything, including us). As the most energetic objects in the universe, supernovae emit blast waves that travel at breakneck speeds.

The supernova is visible in the Webb images as a small bright dot to the right of a large bright spot to the left.

А вы знали что галактика Млечный Путь “выбрасывает” из себя звезды? Подробнее о том, как и почему это происходит, мы рассказывали здесь, не пропустите!

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud, our neighboring galaxy.

Since much is still unclear about supernovae, astronomers intend to use the James Webb telescope to study the area on which the blast wave from this massive star fell. As a rule, shock waves are generated by collisions with gas and dust surrounding the star, breaking the dust particles into small fragments. As astronomer Robert Kirshner of Harvard University believes, we will likely see evidence of an energy source heating the dust.

Fortunately, the new space observatory is just what you need to study supernovae. By working in infrared, Webb will be able to see through the dust.

As for the youngest supernova in the observable universe, scientists will need more time and data to draw final conclusions about the observed object. Well, thanks to the latest telescope, worth 10 billion dollars, many secrets of the solar system and outer space will be revealed.

Это интересно: Астрономы определили лучшее место и время для жизни в Млечном Пути

The James Webb Space Observatory is a true technological marvel

Perhaps in the very near future we will learn not only about the origin and structure of the universe, but about our own place in it. What do you think the James Webb Space Observatory will be able to discover? We await your response here, as well as in the comments to this article!

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