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Exploding Star: Hubble Catches First-Ever Image

First Posted: Dec 17, 2015 12:26 PM EST
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Researchers have captured the image of the first-ever predicted supernova explosion, with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The supernova was nicknamed Refsdal, which has been spotted in a galaxy cluster known as MACS J1149.5+2223.

On Dec. 11, astronomers captured images of the supernova in action, as they had already predicted when and where it would be. The supernova exploded 10 billion years ago, but the light from the galaxy cluster took about 5 billion years to be detected from Earth.

"While studying the supernova, we realised that the galaxy in which it exploded is already known to be a galaxy that is being lensed by the cluster," Steve Rodney, coauthor of the study from the University of South Carolina, said in a news release. "The supernova's host galaxy appears to us in at least three distinct images caused by the warping mass of the galaxy cluster."

Refsdal became well known among astronomers back in November 2014, when four separate images of the supernova called the "Einstein Cross" were detected in the MACS J1149.5+2223 galaxy cluster. The images of the galaxy provided astronomer with the perfect opportunity to study and make accurate predictions as to when and where the supernova would reappear.  

The astronomers found that the supernova had once appeared in 1998. The team used a number of sophisticated modeling techniques to make their predictions.

"We used seven different models of the cluster to calculate when and where the supernova was going to appear in the future," Tommaso Treu, lead author of the study from the University of California at Los Angeles, said in a news release. "And remarkably all seven models predicted approximately the same time frame for when the new image of the exploding star would appear".

The discovery of Refsdal's reappearance paves the way for astronomers to test their models to determine how dark matter is distributed within this galaxy cluster. 

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