Background

Supernovae are exploding stars - the 'novae' part comes from the Latin for 'new'. In fact, astronomers have a separate unrelated class of objects known as novae but the supernovae we are interested in here are ... well ... even more spectacular! 

Figure 1: The remnant from Kepler's Supernova in 1604
Credit: NASA/ESA/JHU/R.Sankrit & W.Blair

The last supernova that we know of in our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, was observed in 1604 (see Figure 1) by Johannes Kepler, so long ago that it was before the invention of the telescope. It's thought that every galaxy has a star that explodes in this way every century on average. This means that our Galaxy is long overdue for a supernova, but of course, around half of our Galaxy is hidden on the other side of an impenetrable (even by light) central area of dust, gas and a super-massive black hole, so we could have missed some. In recent years, it has become easier to spot them using infrared telescopes (such as Keck, the VLT, Spitzer) since galactic dust does not block infrared light in the way that it blocks visible light.

Our activity will steer you through some ideas related to supernovae - we want people to take measurements of their own from real astronomical data and use these data to help us answer some of the questions we have about supernovae. While you take these measurements, we hope you also gain an insight into how scientists (and science!) work.

Go back to the main page