Dying star called galactic 'flashlight'

Aug. 30, 2012 at 5:29 PM
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HONOLULU, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say a dying star that lit up the galactic scene is the most distant explosion of its kind ever studied, some 9.5 billion light-years from Earth.

Astronomers said they were able to use the light of the exploding star, called an ultra-luminous core-collapse supernova, as a probe to study the conditions in the space between the host galaxy's stars.

"It's like someone turned on a flashlight in a dark room and suddenly allowed us to see, for a short time, what this far-off galaxy looks like, what it is composed of," lead researcher Edo Berger of Harvard University said.

The study showed the distant galaxy's interstellar conditions as "reassuringly normal" when compared to those seen in the galaxies of our local universe, he said.

"This shows the enormous potential of using the most luminous supernovae to study the early universe.

"Ultimately it will help us understand how galaxies like our Milky Way came to be," he said.

The dying star in this distant galaxy was captured in images from a telescope on Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii.

In the future, the researchers said, using large survey and spectroscopic telescopes to study ultra-luminous supernovae could yield information about galaxies 90 percent of the way back to the Big Bang.

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