A couple of weeks ago this news item caught my attention, and it even made it onto the BBC Radio 5 news. Astronomers have discovered what they think could be the most powerful supernova ever seen. A supernova is when a massive star explodes, and they usually outshine their host galaxy when they do so.
Incredibly, the discovery of this particular supernova was not made with a large telescope but rather by using a telephoto lens just like sports photographers use! The lens is part of a suite of telephoto lenses which scan the skies from a mountain top in Chile, looking for such exploding stars.
Supernovae are the product of massive stars coming to the end of their lives. Our Sun will never explode as a supernova, it is just not massive enough. But we think that if a star is about 3 times the mass of our Sun or more, then it will go through a series of nuclear reactions which culminate in it blowing itself apart. I have blogged briefly about stellar evolution, and in particular stellar death, here, but I think I need to do a more detailed blog on the latter stages of the life of high mass stars. Amongst other things, it is in supernovae that all the elements beyond carbon are created. So, they play a vital part in not only the formation of planets, but in the formation of life!