Posted on July 25, 2012 · Posted in astrophysics, General

2011:  Supernovae are stellar explosions, driven by gravitational or thermonuclear energy, which occur when stars die. A BSF-supported collaboration between Dr. Avishay Gal­ Yam, Senior Scientist at the Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics in the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Prof. Shrinivas Kulkarni, Director of the Caltech Optical Observatories, plays a key role in a 27-member international research team, which recently discovered a new class of very bright supernovae.

A paper in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, with Dr. Robert Quimby, a California Institute of Technology Post-Doctoral researcher as lead author, reported that the properties of these novel supernovae cannot be described by any known processes. These exciting findings are among the results of the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF).

As a major goal of the BSF project, the Wise observatory in Mizpe Ramon, Israel, was integrated into the network of telescopes supporting the PTF. Prof. Kulkarni, Dr. Gal-Yam and their collaborators started the PTF four years ago to scan the skies for newly appearing flashes of light (known as transients), many of which are supernovae. They are almost a hundred times brighter than the dim, small dwarf galaxies of a few billion stars, in which they are located, which would otherwise remain undetected. They also indicate what ancient stars might have been like, since they most likely originate from stars around a hundred times the size of the sun, which are probably very similar to the first stars in the universe. “It is really amazing how rich the night sky continues to be,” Prof. Kulkarni remarked. “In addition to supernovae, the PTF is making other great advances in stellar astronomy.”