It was not planned, but James Webb saw his first supernova

An unexpected “photobomb” that could offer new subjects for the study of stars in telescopes.

Astronomers have recently made an interesting discovery while reviewing a series of new images produced by the James Webb Space Telescope; they saw a strangely bright object in a part of the sky where the great Hubble had never seen. And if the researchers’ predictions are correct, it could be a supernova; that is a small event in itself, since JWST was not designed to observe it.

In any case, this is the opinion of Mike Engesser, an American astronomer from the Space Telescope Science Institute interviewed by Inverse; he seems to be fairly certain of his facts, though he is willing to admit that there is a small element of uncertainty. ” We need more time and data, but the ones we have are equivalent to a supernova, so this is a very good candidate. “, he said.

Supernovae, things that are hard to study

If this observation gets the team very excited, it is because these phenomena are extremely difficult to capture in action. There are different types, but generally, supernovae are cataclysmic phenomena that accompany the end of a star’s life.

They are associated with flashes of light of incredible intensity that make it possible to spot them… as long as you look in the right place at the right time. And when you add factors into the equation, things get a lot more complicated.

An image of the same part of the sky taken by Hubble. The famous supernova is not recognized here. © STScI by Inverse

The observation time of the telescope is very long, so astronomers cannot afford to stare at an old star all the time in the hope that it will break; to observe them, you have to cross your fingers that an event of this type “photobombs” another observation.

However, the sudden increase in brightness only lasts for a few days; after this period, the latter gradually decreases for several months, making the observations less and less interesting; The optimal observation window is therefore ridiculously narrow, knowing that a star can easily live for many tens of millions of years.

And there’s one more thing the researchers say should have made this observation even more unlikely in Webb’s case. Keep in mind that it tracks very distant objects; in fact, its purpose is to trace back to the beginning of our universe. By definition, it scans a very small portion of the celestial vault. This is equivalent to the surface of the sky that would be hidden from you if you held a grain of sand at arm’s length!

JWST, future supernova hunter?

It’s easy to understand why researchers don’t expect supernovas to flush out there. But this observation changes the situation; according to Engesser, if JWST captured this event, there’s no reason it couldn’t be found in many other shots! ” We may have a very good chance of spotting supernovas all the time “, he was happy.

In any case, it will be a development as big as unexpected; Now there are groups of astronomers who spend most of their time chasing these phenomena, and one can imagine that they are already wringing their hands.

These events are full of clues about the life cycle of stars and their role in the global dynamics of the universe; Researchers even expect that the oldest supernovae ever observed contain interesting information about the beginning of the universe and the first generations of stars.

If JWST can find them, it’s sure to be a great resource for specialists. In fact, JWST never stops pushing the limits of astronomy!

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