SN 2011fe

SN 2011fe, initially designated PTF 11kly, was a Type Ia supernova discovered by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey on 24 August 2011 during an automated review of images of the Messier 101 from the nights of 22 and 23 August 2011. It was located in Messier 101, the Pinwheel Galaxy, 21 million light years from Earth.[3] It was observed by the PTF survey very near the beginning of its supernova event, when it was approximately 1 million times too dim to be visible to the naked eye. It is the youngest type Ia ever discovered.[4] About 13 September 2011, it reached its maximum brightness of apparent magnitude +9.9[5] which equals an absolute magnitude of about -19, equal to 2.5 billion Suns. At +10 apparent magnitude around 5 September, SN 2011fe was visible in small telescopes. As of 30 September the supernova was at +11 apparent magnitude in the early evening sky after sunset above the northwest horizon. It had dropped to +13.7 as of 26 November 2011.[6]

SN 2011fe[1]
Supernova in M101 2011-08-25
Supernova event on August 25, 2011
Other designationsSN 2011fe
Event typeSupernova edit this on wikidata
Spectral classIa[1]
Date24 August 2011[1]
ConstellationUrsa Major, Big Dipper[1]
Right ascension 14h 03m 05.8s[2]
Declination+54° 16′ 25″[2]
Distance21 Mly[3]
HostPinwheel Galaxy (M101)[1]
Peak apparent magnitude9.9


The Palomar Transient Factory is an automated telescopic survey that scans the sky for transient and variable astronomical events. Information is fed to the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which computes the information to identify new star events. After the initial observation of the SN 2011fe event, telescopes were used in the Canary Islands (Spain) to identify the emission spectrum of light emitted at various stages of the event. Following this, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Lick Observatory in California, and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii were used to observe the event in greater detail.

Although SN 2011fe was initially very faint, it brightened rapidly. On the day it was first imaged, 24 August 2011, it was 1 million times too dim to be visible to the unaided eye. One day later, it was 10 thousand times too dim. The next day it was 6 times brighter than that. On 25 August, the EVLA radio telescope failed to detect radio emissions from SN 2011fe. While such emissions are common for other types of supernovae, they have never been observed for Type Ia's.[7]

Two possible candidates were proposed for the precursor system;[8] however, subsequent analysis appears to rule them out. [9]

Importance of Type Ia supernovae and SN 2011fe

Type Ia supernova events occur when a white dwarf star accretes enough additional matter to exceed the Chandrasekhar limit and collapses, triggering runaway fusion and a supernova explosion. Because this collapse happens at a consistent mass, the resulting explosions have very uniform characteristics, and are used as "standard candles" to measure the distance to their host galaxies. The exact brightness and behavior of a Type Ia supernova depends on the metallicity of its parent star (the fraction of the star composed of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium before its evolution into a white dwarf). Because the SN 2011fe event was detected so early, astronomers can gain a more accurate measurement of its initial composition and of its evolution during the supernova explosion, and so refine their models of Type Ia supernova events, resulting in more precise distance estimates for other Type Ia supernova observations.1

Type Ia supernova standard candles may help provide evidence to support the hypothesis of dark energy and the accelerating expansion of the universe. A better understanding of type Ia supernova behavior may in turn allow theoretical models of dark energy to be improved.


  1. ^ a b c d e Beatty, Kelly (25 August 2011). "Supernova Erupts in Pinwheel Galaxy". Sky & Telescope. Retrieved 26 August 2011
  2. ^ a b c Templeton, Matthew (24 August 2011). "Special Notice #250: Possible Type-Ia Supernova in M101". American Association of Variable Star Observers. Retrieved 26 August 2011
  3. ^ a b Shappee, Benjamin; Stanek, Kris (June 2011). "A New Cepheid Distance to the Giant Spiral M101 Based on Image Subtraction of Hubble Space Telescope/Advanced Camera for Surveys Observations". Astrophysical Journal. 733 (2): 124. arXiv:1012.3747. Bibcode:2011ApJ...733..124S. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/733/2/124.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hartmut Frommert & Christine Kronberg (15 Sep 2011). "Supernova 2011fe in M101". Retrieved 17 Sep 2011.
  6. ^
  7. ^ EVLA Radio Observations of SN 2011fe
  8. ^ Weidong Li; et al. (25 August 2011). "Further Analysis of the archival HST images of PTF11kly in M101". The Astronomer's Telegram. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  9. ^ S. J. Smartt; et al. (1 Sep 2011). "No progenitor detection for PTF11kly/SN2011fe in Hubble Space Telescope pre-explosion images". The Astronomer's Telegram. Retrieved 6 Sep 2011. [The ]detection limit is still not deep enough to place restrictive limits on the binary companion to the white dwarf. Low-mass red giants and main-sequence stars below about 5 solar masses would remain undetected.

External links

History of supernova observation

The known history of supernova observation goes back to 185 AD, when supernova SN 185 appeared, the oldest appearance of a supernova recorded by humankind. Several additional supernovae within the Milky Way galaxy have been recorded since that time, with SN 1604 being the most recent supernova to be observed in this galaxy.Since the development of the telescope, the field of supernova discovery has expanded to other galaxies. These occurrences provide important information on the distances of galaxies. Successful models of supernova behavior have also been developed, and the role of supernovae in the star formation process is now increasingly understood.

List of supernovae

This is a list of supernovae that are of historical significance. These include supernovae that were observed prior to the availability of photography, and individual events that have been the subject of a scientific paper that contributed to supernova theory.

Pinwheel Galaxy

The Pinwheel Galaxy (also known as Messier 101, M101 or NGC 5457) is a face-on spiral galaxy distanced 21 million light-years (six megaparsecs) away from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major. Discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 27, 1781, it was communicated to Charles Messier who verified its position for inclusion in the Messier Catalogue as one of its final entries.

On February 28, 2006, NASA and the European Space Agency released a very detailed image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, which was the largest and most detailed image of a galaxy by Hubble Space Telescope at the time. The image was composed of 51 individual exposures, plus some extra ground-based photos.

On August 24, 2011, a Type Ia supernova, SN 2011fe, was discovered in M101.


A supernova ( plural: supernovae or supernovas, abbreviations: SN and SNe) is a transient astronomical event that occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of the life of a massive star, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final, titanic explosion. This causes the sudden appearance of a "new" bright star, before slowly fading from sight over several weeks or months or years.

Supernovae are more energetic than novae. In Latin, nova means "new", referring astronomically to what appears to be a temporary new bright star. Adding the prefix "super-" distinguishes supernovae from ordinary novae, which are far less luminous. The word supernova was coined by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in 1931.

Only three Milky Way, naked-eye supernova events have been observed during the last thousand years, though many have been observed in other galaxies. The most recent directly observed supernova in the Milky Way was Kepler's Supernova in 1604, but the remnants of recent supernovae have also been found. Observations of supernovae in other galaxies suggest they occur on average about three times every century in the Milky Way, and that any galactic supernova would almost certainly be observable with modern astronomical telescopes.

Theoretical studies indicate that most supernovae are triggered by one of two basic mechanisms: the sudden re-ignition of nuclear fusion in a degenerate star or the sudden gravitational collapse of a massive star's core. In the first instance, a degenerate white dwarf may accumulate sufficient material from a binary companion, either through accretion or via a merger, to raise its core temperature enough to trigger runaway nuclear fusion, completely disrupting the star. In the second case, the core of a massive star may undergo sudden gravitational collapse, releasing gravitational potential energy as a supernova. While some observed supernovae are more complex than these two simplified theories, the astrophysical mechanics have been established and accepted by most astronomers for some time.

Supernovae can expel several solar masses of material at speeds up to several percent of the speed of light. This drives an expanding and fast-moving shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium, sweeping up an expanding shell of gas and dust observed as a supernova remnant. Supernova nucleosynthesis is a major source of elements heavier than nitrogen in the interstellar medium, and the expanding shock waves can directly trigger the formation of new stars. Supernova remnants might be a major source of cosmic rays. Supernovae might produce strong gravitational waves, though, thus far, the gravitational waves detected have been from the merger of black holes and neutron stars, such as those that can be left behind by supernovae.

Type Ia supernova

A type Ia supernova (read "type one-a") is a type of supernova that occurs in binary systems (two stars orbiting one another) in which one of the stars is a white dwarf. The other star can be anything from a giant star to an even smaller white dwarf.Physically, carbon–oxygen white dwarfs with a low rate of rotation are limited to below 1.44 solar masses (M☉). Beyond this, they reignite and in some cases trigger a supernova explosion. Somewhat confusingly, this limit is often referred to as the Chandrasekhar mass, despite being marginally different from the absolute Chandrasekhar limit where electron degeneracy pressure is unable to prevent catastrophic collapse. If a white dwarf gradually accretes mass from a binary companion, the general hypothesis is that its core will reach the ignition temperature for carbon fusion as it approaches the limit.

However, if the white dwarf merges with another white dwarf (a very rare event), it will momentarily exceed the limit and begin to collapse, again raising its temperature past the nuclear fusion ignition point. Within a few seconds of initiation of nuclear fusion, a substantial fraction of the matter in the white dwarf undergoes a runaway reaction, releasing enough energy (1–2×1044 J) to unbind the star in a supernova explosion.This type Ia category of supernovae produces consistent peak luminosity because of the uniform mass of white dwarfs that explode via the accretion mechanism. The stability of this value allows these explosions to be used as standard candles to measure the distance to their host galaxies because the visual magnitude of the supernovae depends primarily on the distance.

In May 2015, NASA reported that the Kepler space observatory observed KSN 2011b, a type Ia supernova in the process of exploding. Details of the pre-nova moments may help scientists better judge the quality of Type Ia supernovae as standard candles, which is an important link in the argument for dark energy.

Physics of

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