Astronomers recently caught sight of a rare spectacle: a type 1A supernova magnified upwards of 50 times and split into four images in the sky.
The occurrence was thanks to gravitational lensing, or the distribution of matter between an observer and a distant light source. This phenomenon was first predicted in Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Type 1A supernovas shine at a steady brightness and can be used to determine distance across the universe. The recent event was made possible when the galaxy was perfectly aligned to bring the four streams of light from the supernova into Earth’s view. Studying the discovery and the differences among each of the four images could help scientists better understand dark matter and the universe’s expansion rate.
Scientists have been searching for the elusive type 1A gravitationally lensed supernova for quite some time.
“The huge amplification of the supernova light requires a remarkable alignment of the lens in between the supernova and us,” researcher Ariel Goodbar told Space.com, “the odds are something like one in a hundred thousand!”
The discovery was made by the intermediate Palomar Transient Factory at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego. The search will soon be receiving a significant upgrade when a larger camera is added to the Palomar Observatory. This will speed the search process up tenfold.
Photo courtesy of LoganArt, (CC0)
Chamberlain Smith is a science intern and a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.