The youngest known supernova in the Milky Way has been discovered by astronomers using the Very Large Array radio observatory in New Mexico and using NASA’s Chandra X-ray space observatory. Estimates are that this explosion occurred circa 1868, about 140 years ago.

Until now, the youngest supernova was believed to be one that occurred circa 1680, when Sir Isaac Newton was thirty-seven years old. Two to three supernova are estimated to be borne every century in our galaxy. Scientists assume that there are younger supernovas waiting to be found.

A supernova is a massive explosion of a star that releases immense amounts of energy. This young supernova is near the center of the Milky Way and obscured by dense clouds of dust and gas, but due to its closeness to the center of the galaxy; the amount of available light observable from telescopes is reduced by a factor of a trillion times.

Multiwavelength X-ray, infrared, and optical compilation image of Kepler's Supernova Remnant, SN 1604. (Chandra X-ray Observatory)

Multiwavelength X-ray, infrared, and optical compilation image of Kepler’s Supernova Remnant – Chandra X-ray Observatory.

 

Normally the remnants of stellar explosions that are observed by astronomers are 10,000 years old or more.

As Robert Kirshner of Harvard University said, “It’s a little like one of those shows on TV where they investigate a death. This is a stellar death… and the corpse is still warm.”

The age estimates of these explosions are estimated by tracking the expansion of its remains. The previous youngest was estimated as dating back to 1680 by tracking the remnants of its remains, Cassiopeia A. This newly discovered youngest explosion has been tracked since 1985. The recent findings of the Very Large Array radio telescopes and the Chandra X-ray Observatory pinpointed the age more accurately thus anointing it as the youngest yet discovered.

 

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