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International Gemini Observatory Captures Birth of a Supernova

Stellar discovery marks a new epoc in astronomical research

Photo of galaxy NGC 2770 showing location of star and lines from John Keats' poem.

Lines from the poem "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," by John Keats.
Credit and Larger Version

May 28, 2008

Astronomers have before observed the aftermath of spectacular stellar explosions known as supernovae. But last week researchers for the first time witnessed a star dying in real time.

While observing supernova 2007uy with the Swift X-ray Telescope, Alicia Soderberg and Edo Berger from Princeton University discovered a mysterious X-ray flash elsewhere in the galaxy NGC 2770, located about 90 million light years away. Within a few hours observatories around the world scrambled to study its light.

In a rapid sequence of events, the Gemini North telescope was able to capture and dissect the object's light in a set of optical spectra that contains the earliest spectrum ever obtained of a massive star ending its life in a supernova explosion outside of our galaxy's neighborhood.

"We were in the right place at the right time with the right telescope on January 9, and witnessed history," said Soderberg. "Thanks to the unique capabilities of the Swift satellite and the rapid response of the Gemini telescope, we were able to observe a star in the act of dying."

The result of this rapid response, following the Jan. 9, 2008, discovery, allowed Gemini to provide time-critical spectroscopic observations of the young supernova and the development of the explosion in a unique sequence of optical spectra using Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

For more information, go to the Gemini Observatory Press Release.

--  Lisa-Joy Zgorski, (703) 292-8311 lisajoy@nsf.gov

William Smith

Related Institutions/Organizations
AURA/National Optical Astronomy Observatories


Related Programs
Gemini Observatory

Related Awards
#0647970 Management and Operations of the Gemini Observatory

Total Grants

Related Websites
University of Wisconsin release: http://www.madison.com/tct/news/stories/287552
Princeton University news release: http://www.thetechherald.com/article.php/200821/1046/Astronomers-obser
Space.com story: Supernova Birth Observed for First Time: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/080521-supernova-birth.html
Bob Kirshner from Harvard interviewed on PBS (Lehrer News Hour): http://www.silobreaker.com/DocumentReader.aspx?Item=5_859971588


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