Prof. Ben Sugerman's research paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal
Release date: February 15, 2012
The Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946) has had an unprecedented 9 stars
explode (called a supernova) within the last hundred years. When a
supernova happens, the star fades from view in a few years. It is
therefore quite surprising that SN 1980K, which exploded around
Halloween in 1980, was still observable as late as 2010. Working with
an international collaboration of experts on the evolution of stars,
stellar explosions, and dust, Dr. Ben Sugerman of Goucher College has
proposed that this ultra-long lived object is the result of echoes
from the explosion bouncing off of and warming up a large shell of
dust that the star laid down during the million or so years before it
exploded. This may not seem unusual, since Dr. Sugerman has found
such shells around other supernova, including SNe 1987A, 1991T and
1998bu, however in those cases the echoes could be directly seen (i.e.
resolved) and reconstructing the shells was rather straightforward.
In the case of SN 1980K, the star is too far away to actually see this
dust, so the shell had to be inferred only from how the light has
changed over time. To accomplish this, Dr. Sugerman created a new
model of how light and dust interact, which runs hundreds to thousands
of times faster than conventional "monte-carlo" methods.
His results were accepted on Feb 14, 2012 for publication in The
Astrophysical Journal and are available at http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.3075.