James Webb Telescope Finds Its First Supernova

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is one of the most powerful telescopes ever built. It is the successor to the famous Hubble telescope, and it is significantly more powerful. Over the last month, scientists have been showing off its capabilities with a number of high resolution images of deep space. Given how powerful Webb is, it will likely transform our understanding of the universe. Webb is already making discoveries, one of which might be a supernova, which would make it the first supernova observed by Webb since it launched last year.

Supernova Signatures

Supernova from Webb
Composite image showing the images taken of Webb that show a potential supernova. Image credit: NASA/ESA

A supernova represents the final moments of a massive star’s life. As a massive star runs out of fuel, its gravitational pull causes it to collapse inwards. The outer layers of the star rebound during the collapse, exploding as a mighty supernova. Supernovae are among the brightest, most energetic events in the cosmos, and when a telescope happens to be looking in the right place at the right time, they can be fairly easy to spot. Supernovae tend to be so bright that they can outshine entire galaxies. However, they do not remain that bright for long. The actual explosion itself only lasts a fraction of a second, yet the energy produced will light up the stellar material for several days after the initial event. Thus, supernovas have a fairly obvious signature, first having a large explosion that lights up for a few days before disappearing. 

Supernova Seen By Webb

Webb recently observed an event in a distant galaxy that follows the general pattern of a supernova. The galaxy observed by Webb is designated as SDS J141930+525159.3 (most galaxies are designated based on coordinates rather than given names). The galaxy that the supernova occurred in is over three billion light years away, meaning that the supernova occurred a staggering three billion years ago. Scientists have not yet confirmed if the event itself was a supernova, yet it is a very strong candidate. If confirmed, it would the first supernova observed by the James Webb Space Telescope.