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UK leads international team to discover fiery explosion in a distant galaxy

13 November 2017

UK astronomers have discovered a new type of fiery explosion in a distant galaxy.

This research, funded by STFC, shows the explosion seems to prefer active galaxies that house supermassive black holes consuming the gas and material around them.

Using telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii, lead author Dr Erkki Kankare, from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast detected an explosion that was so energetic, it must have originated either as an extremely massive star – up to several hundred times more massive than our Sun – exploding as a supernova, or from a lower mass star that has been shredded by the ultra-strong gravitational forces close to the supermassive black hole.

Explaining the findings, which have been published today in Nature Astronomy, Dr Kankare said: “If these explosions are tidal disruption events - where a star gets sufficiently close to a supermassive black hole's event horizon and is shredded by the strong gravitational forces - then its properties are such that it would be a brand new type of tidal disruption event. If they are supernova explosions then their properties are more extreme than we have ever observed before, and are likely connected to the central environments of the host galaxies.”

The explosion which has been named PS1-10adi, was discovered 2010, but due to its slow evolution it could be monitored for several more years.

Dr Rubina Kotak, co-author of the study, commented: “Now that we know what we are looking for, we are particularly excited that we will find more transients such as PS1-10adi in larger datasets from upcoming facilities. This means that we are in a fantastic position to pin down their origin, and this will help to piece together more clues of how these events come about.”

Find out more about this discovery on the Nature Website.

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