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.
Jul 11, 2008 | 2
It took 10 years, but Merriam-Webster has finally recognized "dark energy," adding the term—used to describe the perplexing force that is causing galaxies to accelerate away from one another—to some 100 other new dictionary entries this year. Some hesitation was appropriate: As with any new discovery, researchers needed time to digest and confirm the 1998 finding of dark energy, made by analyzing the light coming from distant supernovae. The origin of dark energy is one of the biggest mysteries in physics, but its existence is now well accepted. Researchers believe it will eventually leave individual galaxies isolated in vast oceans of empty space. Among this year's other geeky dictionary-worthy words: dwarf planet (Pluto and other smallish round bodies in the solar system, recently rechristened "plutoids"); malware (harmful computer software); norovirus; phytonutrient; and air quotes, the gesture you no doubt made if you read this out loud.
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