The supernova of PS1-10afx was seen in 2010 and extremely bright for its class and location ~9 billion light years away. New research suggests that a galaxy in front of it, invisible in the bright light, had acted as a giant magnifying lens for the light on its way to Earth. This finding, when confirmed, is consistent with Einstein’s general theory on relativity and gives astronomers new ways to measure cosmological distances and timescales.
According to a recent story in the journal Science, the light of an otherwise unremarkable supernova of star PS1-10afx was distorted by the gravity of a galaxy it traveled through, like the sun through a looking glass, making it much stronger and brighter. The stars in this galaxy where too dim compared to the supernova behind it to be noticed originally. Only when looking for it now that the supernova had faded away, could the team of Ken’ichi Nomoto find spectra showing a galaxy sitting right in front of 10afx. This is consistent with predictions from Einstein himself as part of the general theory of relativity and was shown only once before, with a quadrupled image of a quasar, called the ‘Einstein cross’ (see photo above).
Ironically, it is hard to go back and look for such strange duplications in the supernova’s image now that the supernova’s light is gone. Luckily astronomers now know better what to look for in the future. Also, follow-up research should confirm the galaxy’s size and mass by looking at more spectra. When confirmed, this finding will implicate new tools to measure distance and time in deep space.
Read more on this topic:
Flash Special Edition on Space Exploration
“Shedding Light on Supermassive Black Holes with Pulsars”
Many thanks to Carl Schmidt, Research Associate at the department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia, for his expertise and opinion on the paper and to Marc Presler for editorial advice.
Managing editor on this piece was Marti Borkent.