Space Oddity

I try to keep my ear to the ground, which may account for my having missed an outré little story. Scientists from the Supernova Cosmology Project, who have been using the Hubble Space Telescope to scour the heavens for faraway stellar cataclysms, stumbled across something very odd.

According to the Sky and Telescope website:

The project used the Hubble Space Telescope to monitor very distant galaxy clusters for supernovae. On February 21, 2006, in the direction of a far-away cluster in Bootes named CL 1432.5+3332.8 (redshift 1.112, light travel time 8.2 billion years), Hubble began seeing something brighten. It continued brightening for about 100 days and peaked at 21st magnitude in two near-infrared colors. It then faded away over a similar timescale, until nothing was left in view down to 26th magnitude. The object brightened and faded by a factor of at least 120, maybe more.

The mystery object did not behave like any known kind of supernova. It is not even in any detectable galaxy. “The shape of the light curve is inconsistent with microlensing,” say the researchers. They recorded three spectra of it — and its spectrum, they write, “in addition to being inconsistent with all known supernova types, is not matched to any spectrum in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database” of vast numbers of objects. “We suggest that the transient may be one of a new class.”

What’s its distance? That would certainly be a first step to figuring it out, but only the broadest constraints can be put on its distance. Its lack of parallax motion means that it can’t be closer than about 130 light-years, and a lack of cosmic hydrogen absorption in its spectrum means that it can’t be farther than 11 billion light-years (when “distance” is defined by light travel time). That leaves a lot of leeway.

What could it be? Don’t ask me, friends; by the time I looked it was long gone. Read the article here, or the soon-to-be-published paper by the boffins themselves, here.

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2 Comments

  1. JO says

    HI there,
    I love this but it would be a really good thing if you continue to pick out the pertinent info. The articles went way over my head but I love to explore sites like this!
    Sorry I haven’t been commenting but between doctors and hurricanes, my days have been topsy-turvy. I have been reading every day but I can’t figure out how to comment utilizing the web on my phone.
    keep up the good work!
    Jeanie O

    Posted September 19, 2008 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Jeanie,

    Will do, and thanks as always for reading. I do hope you are making some progress with all this medical effort…

    Posted September 22, 2008 at 10:02 am | Permalink