A new type of explosion in a distant galaxy has been discovered by an international team of astronomers from from Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Chile, and the US, using telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii.
Explosions of this kind “.. include stars disrupted by the central supermassive black hole, and supernovae that are 10–100 times more energetic than typical ones. However, the nature of even more energetic transients that apparently occur in the innermost regions of their host galaxies is hotly debated..”, researchers write in their paper
supermassive black holes and highly energetic explosion
This highly energetic explosion – called PS1-10adi – must have originated from one of two sources:
an extremely massive star – up to several hundred times more massive than our Sun – exploding as a supernova,
or from a lower mass star that has been shredded by the ultra-strong gravitational forces close to the supermassive black hole.
It seems to prefer active galaxies that house supermassive black holes consuming the gas and material around them.
The explosion occurred 2.4 billion years ago, but the enormous distance that light from the event had to travel to reach Earth meant it wasn’t observed by astronomers until 2010. The slow evolution of the explosion allowed scientists to monitor it for several years.
In a press release, Dr Cosimo Inserra, of the University of Southampton, who was involved in the study: said that the discovery we made has revealed explosions capable of releasing an amount of energy ten times bigger than normal explosions.
“Our data show that events like this are not very unusual and challenge our knowledge of exploding and disrupting stars.”
“At the same time, their existence provides us with important information about the extreme environment in the central, hidden, part of galaxies.”
Lead author Dr Erkki Kankare, of Queen’s University Belfast, added: “If these explosions are tidal disruption events – where a star gets sufficiently close to a supermassive black hole’s event horizon and is shredded by the strong gravitational forces – then its properties are such that it would be a brand new type of tidal disruption event.
“If they are supernova explosions then their properties are more extreme than we have ever observed before, and are likely connected to the central environments of the host galaxies.”