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SA telescope helps capture cosmic blast

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A collaboration of telescopes, including a contribution by the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland, has unveiled a cosmic explosion about 200 times more powerful than a typical supernova.

To prove the record breaking nature of this supernova explosion, crucially, its distance had to be established. This was achieved with spectroscopic observations taken by SALT.

“Upon seeing the spectral signatures from SALT and realising that we had discovered the most powerful supernova yet, I was too excited to sleep the rest of the night,” said Subo Dong, an astronomer and a Youth Qianren Research Professor at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA) at Peking University.

“This impressive result highlights strengths of SALT and the benefits of Chinese-South African collaboration in astronomy, and we are looking forward to strengthening such collaboration in future”, said Petri Vaisanen, head of science operations at SALT.

At its peak intensity the explosion, called ASASSN-15lh, shone with 570 billion times the brightness of the Sun. If that statistic does not impress, consider that this luminosity level is approximately 20 times the entire output of the 100 billion stars comprising our Milky Way galaxy.

As described in a new study published today in Science, ASASSN-15lh is amongst the closest superluminous supernovae ever found, at around 3.8 billion light years away. Given its exceptional brightness and closeness, ASASSN-15lh might offer key clues in unlocking the secrets of this baffling class of celestial detonations.

“ASASSN-15lh is the most powerful supernova discovered in human history,” said Dong, the study lead author. “The explosion’s mechanism and power source remain shrouded in mystery because all known theories meet serious challenges in explaining the immense amount of energy ASASSN-15lh has radiated.”

ASASSN-15lh was first glimpsed in June 2015 by twin telescopes with 14-centimeter diameter lenses in Cerro Tololo, Chile conducting the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN), an international collaboration headquartered at The Ohio State University. (Hence ASASSN-15lh’s somewhat menacing moniker.) These two tiny telescopes sweep the skies to detect suddenly appearing objects like ASASSN-15lh that are intrinsically very bright, but are too far away for human observers to notice.

A spectrum taken at the 2.5 meter du Pont telescope in Chile suggested that ASASSN-15lh might indeed be a superluminous supernova.

To know for sure how luminous ASASSN-15lh was, a measurement of its distance was required. This was determined with spectroscopic observations by Dong’s colleague Saurabh Jha of Rutgers University using the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). “SALT and its queue schedule observing are ideal for rapidly following up transient events like ASASSN-15lh,” explained Jha.

To clear up where exactly ASASSN-15lh is located, as well as numerous other mysteries regarding it and its hyper-kinetic ilk, the research team has been granted valuable time this year on the Hubble Space Telescope. With Hubble, Dong and colleagues will obtain the most detailed views yet of the aftermath of ASASSN-15lh’s stunning explosion. In concert, Jha has continued to use SALT to obtain spectroscopic follow-up observations to analyze the composition and structure of the explosion as it progresses, including making use of special “Director’s discretionary time” awarded to study this unique event. Important insights into the true wellspring of its power should come to light.

One of the best hypotheses is that superluminous supernovae’s stupendous energy comes from highly magnetized, rapidly spinning neutron stars called magnetars, which are the leftover, hyper-compressed cores of massive, exploded stars. But ASASSN-15lh is so luminous that this compelling magnetar scenario falls short of the required energies. Instead, ASASSN-15lh-esque supernovae might be triggered by the demise of incredibly massive stars that go beyond the top tier of masses most astronomers would speculate are even attainable.

“The honest answer is at this point that we do not know what could be the power source for ASASSN-15lh,” said Dong. “ASASSN-15lh may lead to new thinking and new observations of the whole class of superluminous supernova, and we look forward to plenty more of both in the years ahead.”

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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