Supernovae are violent explosions marking the abrupt end of a massive star’s life. They are amongst the most energetic events in the Universe and are so bright they can briefly outshine an entire galaxy.
The death of a massive star is an exciting event, but there are several important reasons for scientists to study them: Supernovae can help us untangle the evolution of galaxies, planetary systems and even life on Earth; they can reveal the origins the Universe’s heavy elements, including the iron in your blood and every ounce of gold on the planet; and it was these super-luminous events that helped expose the expansion of our Universe.
LCO is an integral partner in a host of supernovae surveys helping to advance the field of supernova research, including the intermediate Palomar Transient Factory, La-Silla-Quest, ASAS-SN, ATLAS, KMTNet, OGLE, Gaia and our own Supernova Key Project.
The Supernova Key Project is a major initiative aiming to build the world’s largest sample of data on nearby supernovae by observing around 500 supernovae in three years. In the two years since the project began, LCO has contributed to the project by observing 567 supernovae, and providing over 80,000 images and 2,000 spectra.
At any given moment LCO is monitoring 30-40 active supernovae, and our rapid-response is ideal for reacting quickly to alerts of new explosions. This allows us to obtain some of the earliest observations of supernovae and help to reveal their progenitors. The fastest LCO classification to date took place just one hour and 16 minutes after the supernova was announced.