"Space. The final frontier..." - Richard Nimoy
We see only a fraction of the enormity that is the universe. Even with all the observatories and gazillion-dollar telescopes in the world.
That's why when the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) spotted an explosive supernova event, we were counting our lucky stars.
A bright flash of light was spotted by the Hubble in early 2018 while it was peering into the outer rim of galaxy NGC 2525, over 70 million lightyears away.
This is what the evidence first looked like:
A bit archaic.
That's because the Hubble was 'peripherally' looking in that direction.
Even though it doesn't show the supernova event, the data suggest it illuminates the entire galaxy.
By February, the HST aligned its Wide Field Camera 3 at the location of the flash to take some snaps.
Fast forward to February 2019. The HST had a timeline of images that spanned the full year while the supernova faded into black.
Unfortunately, the HST missed the peak brightness of the supernova. Which was calculated at 5 billion times the luminosity of the Sun. But you wouldn't know it from the spectacular timelapse named SN 2018gv.
Now, we finally have our mitts on the footage.
Keep in mind, the zoom is us venturing millions of lightyears into a foreign galaxy. The odds of capturing a supernova event is rare. Very rare.
The first-ever predicted exploding star was captured in 2015 by the HST. Just over 5 years ago.
The music alone is worth the click.
Astrophysicist Adam Riess from the Space Telescope Science Institute said: "No Earthly fireworks display can compete with this supernova, captured in its fading glory by the Hubble,"
The supernova isn't all space fireworks. They are a useful way for astrophysicists to calculate the expansion rate of the universe.
The timelapse is a White Dwarf star from a binary pair. The two stars orbit each other getting closer and closer due to their gravitational waves. Instead of finally merging, one star has stolen enough material from its twin that it reached critical mass and exploded in a supernova.
This event is called a 'Type Ia supernova' and allows us to determine the brightness at peak explosion.
Another way to determine brightness is how quickly the supernova fades. Working backwards, they can accurately measure peak brightness then using it as a kind of cosmic distance gauge.
Because we can tell how far away something is by how light or faint it is. Then we can explore the nature of the space and objects around it.
Dark matter is measured using this distance measure method. The same can be said of measuring a galaxy's brightness. Also, we are attempting to measure the expansion rate of the universe the same way. While we haven't got the exact measurement yet, Type Ia supernovae like SN 2018gv are advancing our understanding.
While witnessing a supernova event is rare, the HST is getting better at spotting them and adding to the foundation of data.
Data that we use to refine our calculations of the universe's expansion.
When (or if) the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launches, we will have higher potential to see Type Ia supernovae deeper into the universe.
However, continual delays from the complex technology, budget overruns, testing problems and political difficulties have kept the JWST grounded. Not to mention the most recent launch delay until October 31, 2021 thanks to the current pandemic.
When it does happen, we will capture Type Ia supernova events more and in richer detail.
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