Long streamers of gas glow in the Large Magellanic cloud, remnants of a supernova blast that destroyed a white dwarf in a Type 1a supernova. Its remnants are known as SNR 0454-67.2. Such explosions occur when a white dwarf sucks in enough material from a companion star to reach a critical mass, triggering a catastrophic core collapse, rebound and shock wave that blows the star apart. Its remnants are blasted into the surrounding space, including heavy elements that were cooked up in the detonation. Because Type 1a supernovas all occur in the same fashion, they shine with a known brightness, or luminosity, that can be used to determine their distance. Such supernovae are known as “standard candles” and they are critical to modern cosmology, helping astronomers measure changes in the acceleration of the universe’s expansion due to dark energy.
At a ceremony held today in Germany, the European Southern Observatory and the ACe Consortium signed the largest contract ever in ground-based astronomy for key components of the 39-metre aperture European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). The 85-metre-diameter, 5000 tonne dome and telescope structure will take telescope engineering into new territory.
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found that Markarian 231, the nearest galaxy to Earth that hosts a quasar, is powered by two central black holes. The finding suggests that quasars — the brilliant cores of active galaxies — may commonly host two central supermassive black holes that fall into orbit about one another as a result of galactic mergers.