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Magnetars may explain superluminous supernovas

The superluminous supernova ASASSN-15lh was more than 500 times brighter than an average supernovae.

By Brooks Hays
Magnetars may explain superluminous supernovas
New research suggest magnetars, extremely large neutron stars, may explain superluminous supernovas. Photo by Kavli IPMU

GRANADA, Spain, March 24 (UPI) -- A supernova is the violent explosion of dying, collapsed star. They frequently shine brighter than a billion suns. Superluminous supernovas, or SLSNs, are stellar explosions 10 to 100 times brighter than an average supernova.

Researchers haves struggled to explain the origins of these types of supernovas, but new research suggests a type of star known as a magnetar may be responsible.

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Magnetars are large neutron stars with massive electromagnetic fields. A new model suggests energy lost during the birth of magnetars is comparable to the outbursts measured during SLSNs.

Astronomers used the model to analyze two recently observed superluminous supernovas, SN 2011kl and ASASSN-15lh, and found both fit nicely within the model's parameters.

"These supernovae can be found in very distant universe, thus possibly informing us the properties of the first stars of the universe," researcher Ken'ichi Nomoto said in a news release.

Observed in 2015, ASASSN-15lh is thought to be one of the biggest and brightest ever -- more than 500 times brighter than an average supernova, 20 times brighter than the entire Milky Way. Its record-setting luminosity lasted nearly a month.

Astronomers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucia in Spain say the size and spin rate of magnetars match neatly with the gamma-ray outbursts measured in SN 2011kl and ASASSN-15lh.

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"We conclude that a magnetar model may be used for the interpretation of these events and that the hydrodynamical modeling is necessary to derive the properties of powerful magnetars and their progenitors," researchers wrote in their new paper.

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