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The colossal cosmic blast happened only 3.3billion years after the Big Bang
The colossal cosmic blast happened only 3.3billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was a quarter of its current age, and light from the supernova has taken 10.5billion years to reach Earth – the Universe itself is thought to be 13.8billion years old.
The supernova, named DES16C2nm, was identified by a team led by Southampton University for the Dark Energy Survey (DES) – an international collaboration mapping far-off galaxies.
The team confirmed it is a superluminous supernova (SLSN) which is the brightest and rarest class and up to 100 times brighter than other types of stellar blasts.
Lead author Dr Mathew Smith said: “DES16C2nm is extremely distant, extremely bright and extremely rare – not the sort of thing you stumble across every day as an astronomer.
“It’s thrilling to be part of the survey that has discovered the oldest known supernova.
“As well as being a very exciting discovery in its own right the extreme distance of DES16C2nm gives us a unique insight into the nature of SLSN.”
Supernovae one of the most violent explosions in space and are the result of the death of massive stars.
They are part of the story of how we came to be because they created many of the heavy elements from which planets are made.
Dr Smith added: “The ultraviolet light from SLSN informs us of the amount of metal produced in the explosion and the temperature of the explosion itself – both of which are key to understanding what causes and drives these cosmic explosions.”
The record-breaking stellar explosion was first detected in August 2016.
Its distance and extreme brightness were confirmed in October that year using three of the world’s most powerful telescopes.
These included the Very Large Telescope and the Magellan in Chile, and the Keck Observatory, in Hawaii.
Study co-author and professor of Astrophysics at Portsmouth University, Bob Nichol, said: “Such supernovae were not thought of when we started DES over a decade ago.
“Such discoveries show the importance of empirical science – sometimes you just have to go out and look up to find something amazing.”
More than 400 scientists from over 25 institutions across the globe are involved in the Dark Energy Survey – a five-year project started in 2013.
The collaboration built and is using an extremely sensitive 570-megapixel digital camera, DECam, mounted on the Blanco 4-metre telescope at high in the Chilean Andes at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
Between 2013-2018, the DES collaboration is using 525 nights of observation to carry out a deep, wide-area survey to record information from 300million galaxies billions of light-years from Earth.
The survey is imaging 5,000 square degrees of the southern sky in five optical filters to gather detailed information about each galaxy.
A fraction of the survey time is used to examine smaller patches of sky around once a week to discover and study thousands of supernovae and other astrophysical transients.
upernovae can outshine entire galaxies and radiate more energy than the sun will in its entire life
A supernova occurs when a star burns its last nuclear fuel and collapses under its own gravity – blasting its outer layers into space.
The star’s core is left behind in the condensed form of a black hole or neutron star.
Superluminous supernovae were discovered only a decade ago and are rare in the nearby universe.
Supernovae can outshine entire galaxies and radiate more energy than the sun will in its entire lifetime.
The star’s core is left behind in the condensed form of a black hole or neutron star
According to Nasa supernovae are “the largest explosions that take place in space.”
In a galaxy the size of the Milky Way, a supernova will usually occur around once every 50 years which means a star explodes about once every second or so in the Universe.
Study co-author Professor Mark Sullivan from Southampton University said: “Finding more distant events – to determine the variety and sheer number of these events – is the next step.
“Now we know how to find these objects at even greater distances, we are actively looking for more of them as part of the Dark Energy Survey.”