Did You Notice the Biggest Explosion on Record?
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This week, astronomers said they saw the largest and brightest explosion ever recorded in the universe. Let me retake that. The largest and brightest explosion ever recorded in the universe. Did anyone notice?
Dr. Nathan Smith of the University of California who heads a team that's been trying to track the now-deceased star. Says it was about 150 times larger than our sun. It's gotten to the point, you know, where you have to say our sun as opposed to some other solar system's sun. And it's, quote, "quite possibly the most massive thing that has ever exploded."
Personally, I heard, saw and felt nothing. Wednesday morning I heard a low rumble. Thought I saw my coffee sloshed a little on its cup. It reminded me that I really should try to avoid eating Guacamole after 11:00 p.m. Scientists have been watching the dying stars since last September when they spied it in the galaxy in the constellation Perseus, 240 million light-years away.
The man who saw the explosion was Robert Quimby, a University of Texas graduate student who was peering through a small, robotic telescope at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. The New York Times says that the future Dr. Quimby was patrolling for supernovas at the time, with what kind of bait?
What most excite scientists about this biggest bang ever observed is that they have no idea how the star exploded. It suggested then that dying stars may throw off a billion gazillion sparks, rocks, ashes and asteroids brimming with iron and carbon that become the seeds of new stars and planets.
Dr. Mario Livio at the Space Telescope Science Institute says here we have the brightest supernova we have ever observed and we don't know the explosion mechanism. It doesn't get anymore exciting than that.
The largest explosion ever recorded in the universe and yet, it's not the lead story of the week. Come December, I doubt, it will make most lists of the most important stories of the year. Yet hundreds of years from now, it may be the only event of our times that some future civilization living under some other sun deems important enough to note.
On some ways, that may make us feel small. Anything we are or can ever become is less than a molecule in the momentousness of this ceaseless universe. A molecule that was Donald Trump, Nelson Mandela or Steven Hawking will be no bigger, better or memorable than anyone else's, though, Mr. Trump may disagree.
But I prefer to be as excited as the scientists. Every day holds the promise of a new sun. Something amazing that we can't even see that can still warm our lives.
(Soundbite of "Little Star" by The Elegants)
Mr. VITO PICONE (Lead Vocals, The Elegants): (Singing) Where are you little star?
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Where are you?
Mr. PICONE: (Singing) Whoa(ph) oh, oh, oh-uh-oh Ratta ta ta too-ooh-ooh Whoa oh, oh, oh-uh-oh Ratta(ph) ta ta too-ooh-ooh(ph). Twinkle twinkle little star How I wonder where you are. Wish I may, wish I might. Make this wish come true tonight.
SIMON: The Elegants. This is NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)