supernova SN 2014J
February 27, 2014

Spitzer To Help Study Nearby Type Ia Supernova

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has used its dust-piercing infrared vision to help in analyzing a recently-discovered supernova in galaxy M82. It joined with several other instruments to create a detailed portrait of the stellar explosion, officials from the US space agency announced on Wednesday.

The new supernova, SN 2014J, is the closest of its kind to be observed in the past few decades and has launched a global observing campaign. For its part, Spitzer will be looking directly into the core of the supernova’s aftermath, since dust in the host galaxy partially obscures observations in optical and high-energy volumes of light.

“At this point in the supernova's evolution, observations in infrared let us look the deepest into the event,” explained Mansi Kasliwal of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, the principal investigator for the Spitzer observations. “Spitzer is really good for bypassing the dust and nailing down what's going on in and around the star system that spawned this supernova.”

Spitzer will be joining the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer and other space-based observatories in studying SN 2014J, which is a Type Ia supernova that was originally discovered in galaxy M82 on January 21.

A Type Ia supernova is a tremendous explosion resulting in the complete destruction of the small, dense and aged remnant of a sun-like star known as a white dwarf. They can form either when the white dwarf gravitationally attracts matter from a companion star, gaining mass until the white dwarf reaches the point where it explodes, or when two white dwarfs in a binary system grow closer and closer until there’s an explosive collision.

“Type Ia supernovas serve a critically important role in gauging the expansion of the universe because they explode with almost exactly the same amount of energy, shining with a near-uniform peak brightness. The fainter a Type Ia supernova looks from our vantage point, the farther away it must be,” NASA said. These supernovas are known as “standard candles,” because they allow astronomers to determine the distances to nearby galaxies.

Analyzing SN 2014J will help researchers gain new insights into the processes leading up to Type Ia detonations, allowing them to further refine theoretical models. In a stroke of good luck, Spitzer had already been scheduled to observe M82 on January 28 – one week after SN 2014J was first detected by astronomers in the UK.

“The supernova is glowing very brightly in the infrared light that Spitzer sees,” the US space agency said. “The telescope was able to observe the supernova before and after it reached its peak brightness. Such early observations with an infrared telescope have only been obtained for a few Type Ia supernovas in the past. Researchers are currently using the data to learn more about how these explosions occur.”