Research, Technology

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 nuclei of these cosmic bodies contain fusion products and convert simple elements such as hydrogen into heavier elements such as carbon and nitrogen. These building blocks of life are ejected during supernova explosions, a process during which the brightness of stars increases by 10 to 20 magnitudes, and then gradually fades, 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 ever seen by man.

Universe Factory

The James Webb Space Telescope has launchedwork recently, but has already sent to Earth the latest data on the observable Universe: on July 12, 2022, the whole world watched stunning images of a cluster of galaxies located five billion light-years from Earth. Another catch of the observatory was the so-called star nursery The region in space where stars are born. All these data were received a few days after the start of full-fledged work.

Recently, as astronomers expected, spacethe telescope broke its own record by finding 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. True, after observing the object for five days, the researchers came to the conclusion that not looking at the galaxy – in front of them flaunted a supernova. It was possible to confirm the guess with the help of archival data from the Hubble space telescope.

By the way, recently Hubble photographed a star almost 13 billion years old! You can read about how it happened here!

An artist's view of a supernova explosion

And here is the most surprising:the object observed by Webb turned out to be the first supernova that appeared 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 vast areas of the sky and observe clusters of galaxies. This means that the space observatory will see the youngest galaxies in the universe, which formed several hundred million years after the Big Bang.

If we combine the obtained data on galaxies withdiscovered by a supernova, we will be able to 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 think that the stars in the first few million years were mostly hydrogen and helium, unlike the stars we observe today, astronomer Mike Engesser told Inverse.

Supernovae are difficult to detect because the explosion itselflasts 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.

More on the topic: A supernova explosion could cause a mass extinction on Earth

young and old stars

In galaxies like ours, supernova explosionsoccur infrequently. Fortunately, there are an unlimited number of galaxies in the universe, which is why 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 operating since 2012.

But back to the SDSS.J141930 galaxy.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 detection could open up a whole new area of ​​astronomical research.

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

The more massive the star, the more energy it releases into the surrounding space.

Interestingly, the first supernova, visibleto the naked eye for more than 400 years, there was an outburst 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, the researchers intend to analyze the remnants of the outbreak, shedding light on what exactly happened after the death of the star.

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

We note that supernovae play a decisive role inthe evolution of galaxies, creating heavier elements (which make up everything, including us). As the most energetic objects in the universe, supernovae emit explosive waves that propagate at breakneck speed.

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

Did you know that the Milky Way galaxy “throws” stars out of itself? Read more about how and why this happens here, don't miss it!

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

Since much about supernovae remains unclear,astronomers intend to use the James Webb Telescope to study the region hit by the massive star's blast wave. As a rule, shock waves are generated by collision with gas and dust surrounding the star, breaking the dust particles into small fragments. As astronomer Robert Kirshner of Harvard University believes, most likely we will see evidence of an energy source that heats the dust.

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

As for the youngest supernova inobservable Universe, researchers 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.

This is interesting: Astronomers have determined the best place and time for life in the Milky Way

The James Webb Space Observatory is a true technological marvel

Perhaps in the very near future we will find outnot only about the origin and structure of the universe, but about one's own place in it. What do you think the James Webb Space Observatory will be able to detect? We will wait for the answer here, as well as in the comments to this article!