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Stellar Explosions, Photocopied — 3 Comments

    • The latter, if my understanding is correct.

      Astronomers have gotten pretty good at finding supernovae. And they routinely observe the effects of gravitational lensing caused by massive galactic nuclei.

      They still need to be very lucky to spot a supernova right behind a gravitational lens.

      One exciting thing about this event is that comparing changes in the multiple images, as the supernova fades, may allow unique cosmological measurements. Light from each of the four images followed a different path from the supernova to the Hubble telescope. If the path lengths differ, the travel time also differs. Each of the images may represent a slightly different moment in the supernova’s past, like four frames in a movie of the fading star.

      The time delays depend upon the Hubble constant, a number we use to characterize the expansion of the universe. Measuring changes in each image and comparing them can, ideally, allow astronomers to derive the Hubble constant. Turns out that this method is complementary to other methods of measuring it, so it can be a useful way to check our previous measurements.

      As Brenda Frye suggests, this possibility has been known in theory for a long time. Now there’s finally a chance to try it out.

      Measuring other properties of the four images could help map out the gravity of the lensing galaxy.

      According to this paper by Patrick L. Kelly and his colleagues, prospects are good for getting spectral and brightness measurements of this novel phenomenon in the months to come. I’m eager to see what information will be squeezed out of these observations.

      • This is amazing! As a hobby astronomer, I have always been taken by the reality that when we look into the night sky we see it as it was versus how it is. An analogy that comes to mind is that the night sky is like an exposed cliff with layers of rock that have formed over the centuries and each light year in the universe is like a new layer of sediment on the cliff. Is it fair to say that the effect you explain of the reflections of this one nebula is like finding four fossils in the side of my layered rock wall, but each fossil is of the same animal at four different developmental stages of its life (or death in this case)? If that is the case, how rare and beautiful that would be.

        My “daydreamer” side was itched when I read Brenda Frye’s piece wondering, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could learn enough about the phenomenon to be able bend light without mirrors or lenses to create a ‘natural’ telescope on earth?” I know, probably more science fiction than science, but also amazing that nature can create these types of things!

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