As deaths go, few are more spectacular than a supernova—the violent explosion that marks the end of the life of a massive star. For a short time, such dying stars outshine the brightness of their home galaxies before fading from sight. In their final death throes, supernovae are wildly productive—generating cosmic rays, introducing heavier elements into the interstellar medium, and even birthing the next generation of new stars. The details of a supernova event contain clues about the accelerating expansion of the universe.
At CCAPP, an uncommonly diverse group of researchers study supernovae with both theory and observation to answer a thrilling array of interrelated questions.
CCAPP particle astrophysicists are investigating the source of supernovae’s immense explosive power. They create theories for the dying stars’ output of elusive neutrinos, which light up detectors like IceCube and herald the supernova’s existence because they travel so much faster than the light from the explosion. CCAPP cosmologists study supernova and the remnants they leave behind to understand how galaxies form and evolve.
Supernova studies at CCAPP include the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), which provides a continuous stream of data about the variable universe within 500 million light years around the Milky Way Galaxy—about 1 percent of the observable universe. With the assistance of volunteer amateur astronomers who help to confirm sightings, CCAPP cosmologists have used ASAS-SN to discover hundreds of supernovae in both hemispheres. The Dark Energy Survey has also proven useful for identifying and confirming supernovae.
Closely related to supernovae studies are questions about another phenomenon of immense research interest: black holes. CCAPP scientists are interested in why some massive stars fail to become supernovae and instead give rise to black holes. They conduct a regular black hole search using CCAPP’s share in the Large Binocular Telescope, and ASAS-SN images have pointed them to active galaxy nuclei and other interesting phenomena.
CCAPP’s unique multidisciplinary approach to studying supernovae enables its professors, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to advance science in multiple directions at once. With a shared drive to discover, CCAPP researchers are uniquely equipped to advance the understanding of supernovae and much more.