Dramatic supernova find by Chilean team

Group from Universidad de Chile becomes first in the country’s history to discover a supernova using a Chilean made and run telescope.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014  
The Chilean-designed and operated telescope at Cerro Tololo has made the nation’s first supernova di The Chilean-designed and operated telescope at Cerro Tololo has made the nation’s first supernova discovery. Photo by Guille Damke / Flickr

On the morning of Saturday Dec. 7, Luis González, research assistant in research at the prestigious Universidad de Chile, discovered an astronomical phenomena that would secure his team’s entry into the record books.

What González found as he revised the data from the Cata500 telescope were possible signs of a dying star exploding.

Following this revelation, the assistant contacted José Maza, Universidad de Chile astronomer and investigator for the Center of Astrophysics and Technology (Cata). Maza hoped the experienced star hunter could confirm his suspicions. Several days later the word came down: they had found a supernova, becoming the first team to do so using a Chilean designed and operated telescope.

Located 370 million light years from Earth, the supernova they found lies in the galaxy ESO 365-G16 and has a mass eight times that of our Sun.

Maza explained the secrets behind finding supernovas.

“A supernova is a very unusual event arising from the death of a star. In a galaxy like the Milky Way, where there are more than 100 billion stars, one dies every 30 years,” Maza told La Tercera. “So you could look for 20 or 30 years and not see anything, but if I look at 50 galaxies constantly one will produce a supernova, and if I study 500, I’ll find even more.”

Using a robotic telescope like the Cata500 this kind of wide-net searching is possible because experts can monitor huge areas and then subsequently monitor the data received.
In fact the Chilean-designed telescope, installed in the Cerro Tololo International Observatory in the country’s north near the Atacama Desert, is operated hundreds of miles from the Santiago offices where the researchers work. Eduardo Maureira, the  technician who controls the Cata500, can even monitor progress using his cell phone.

Due to its almost non-existent humidity and clear skies, the Atacama is the world’s premier location for astronomy. Chile is home to almost half the world’s telescope infrastructure, and this is set to increase to over two thirds in the next decade.