May 22, 2009 | 7
New research may shed light on the stellar explosions used as cosmic mileposts.
Type Ia supernovae, known as "standard candles" in astronomy, have consistent properties that make them good markers of distance when peering at galaxies across the universe. In fact, studies of this kind of exploding star a decade ago produced one of the most significant scientific discoveries in recent history: that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, thanks to the influence of so-called dark energy.
In a paper set to be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, members of a consortium known as the Nearby Supernova Factory present a new way to ascertain type Ia supernovae's relative distance quickly and accurately, thereby increasing their usefulness as markers. Whereas past approaches painstakingly tracked the light output from the explosion over time, the new method can be used to measure a supernova's luminosity, and hence distance, much more quickly, and with a level of accuracy the study's authors say surpasses the traditional approach.
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