Astronomy Now, January 14
Records are made to be broken, as the expression goes, but rarely are records left so thoroughly in the dust. Stunned astronomers have witnessed a cosmic explosion about 200 times more powerful than a typical supernova — events which already rank amongst the mightiest outbursts in the universe — and more than twice as luminous as the previous record-holding supernova.
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.
The record-breaking blast is thought to be an outstanding example of a “superluminous supernova,” a recently discovered, supremely rare variety of explosion unleashed by certain stars when they die. Scientists are frankly at a loss, though, regarding what sorts of stars and stellar scenarios might be responsible for these extreme supernovae.
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