Astronomers, though not entirely sure what it is, are viewing a ball of hot gas billions of light years away that is radiating the energy of hundreds of billions of suns.
If the gas ball is the result of a supernova, then it’s the most powerful supernova ever seen.
An international team of professional and amateur astronomers spotted the possible supernova, now called ASASSN-15lh, when it first flared to life in June 2015.
Even in a discipline that regularly uses gigantic numbers to express size or distance, the case of this small but powerful mystery object in the center of the gas ball is so extreme that the team’s co-principal investigator, Krzysztof Stanek, turned to the movie ‘This is Spinal Tap’ to find a way to describe it.
The gas ball surrounding the object can’t be seen with the naked eye, because it is 3.8 billion light years away. But it was spotted by the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN, pronounced ‘assassin’) collaboration. Led by Ohio State, the project uses a cadre of small telescopes around the world to detect bright objects in our local universe.
Stanek said that the discovery “may lead to new thinking and new observations of the whole class of super luminous supernova.”
This study is published in Science.