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Illuminating Dark Energy with Supernovae

Catastrophic explosions in space reveal surprising information about the early universe

D. Andrew Howell

2013-07HowellF1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageA supernova is a powerful explosion that occurs when a star is transformed by nuclear fusion or gravitational collapse. Supernovae emit bright light and release large amounts of energy. Astronomers study the properties of light and energy from supernovae to determine how quickly each one is moving away from Earth, which can be used to extrapolate the history of the expansion of the universe. Such studies of supernovae led to the discovery of dark energy in the late 1990s. Traditional modes of allocating time on the most powerful telescopes in the world limit study of supernovae. Astronomers studying them do not need a large block of time each year but rather need many small blocks of time, because supernovae only last a few weeks. D. Andrew Howell proposes a solution that incorporates robotics into telescope technology—if today’s leading astronomers could find the funding to make this change, the secrets of the early universe would be revealed.


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