The recent discovery of the supernova in the M82 galaxy is a great opportunity for good research paper topics for your astronomy class. For information for your term paper on this event or the formation or significance of supernovae in general, you can research recent science articles or look up keywords and search terms in a prominent science journal or website.
Astronomy students discover supernova
On January 21, 2014, a nearby supernova was discovered by astronomy students from the University of London Observatory. After doing preliminary checks on the popular cigar-shaped galaxy known as M82, students found a superbright star that was not there the week before. It was a Type 1a supernova—an exploded white dwarf star.
The supernova outshone every other star in M82, which is 12 million light years away, and is visible to us on Earth with a telescope. The supernova is ejecting debris at 20,000 kilometers per second. At its brightest it was a magnitude 10.5 the first week of February, but is fading now. M82 is located between Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper).
University College London’s press release “Supernova in Messier 82 discovered by UCL students,” posted January 22, 2014 explained: “The discovery was a fluke—a 10 minute telescope workshop for undergraduate students that led to a global scramble to acquire confirming images and spectra of a supernova in one of the most unusual and interesting of our near-neighbour galaxies.”
Students Ben Cooke, Tom Wright, Matthew Wilde and Guy Pollack were assisted by teacher Dr. Steve Fossey. “Fossey noticed a ‘star’ overlaid on the galaxy which he did not recognise from previous observations. They inspected online archive images of the galaxy, and it became apparent that there was indeed a new star-like object in M82,” the press release said.
We are all star-stuff
One of the most fascinating facts about supernovae is that none of us would be here without them. A good research paper topic would be to discuss how many of the elements in our bodies were forged in the fires and immense pressure inside a dying star. Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and heavy elements are formed and released into interstellar space as the exploding supernova ejects clouds of debris, dust and gas for millions of light years.
Debris from many supernova that exploded in our region of space more than 4.5 billion years ago coalesced to form our Sun and planets and all carbon-based life on the Earth. “All organic matter containing carbon was produced originally in stars,” said Chris Impey, professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. “The universe was originally hydrogen and helium, the carbon was made subsequently, over billions of years,” Impey said to Remy Melina, Life’s Little Mysteries staff writer, in “Are We Really All Made of Stars?” posted October 13, 2010 on Live Science.
Supernovae answer century-old mystery
Another research paper topic idea is to discuss some of the many properties of supernovae. One is their relationship to cosmic rays. In the February 14, 2013 article, “Cosmic Rays’ Mysterious Origin? Supernovae to Blame, Study Confirms,” in Christian Science Monitor, found on Questia.com, author Pete Spotts explained how a century-old mystery was solved.
Between 1911 and 1913, Austrian physicist Victor Hess discovered cosmic rays, or ionized radiation, using balloons filled with hydrogen. Cosmic rays are protons that have been accelerated to near the speed of light. Years later, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi proposed that cosmic rays originated in interstellar space, but exactly from what or where has been the biggest unsolved mystery in particle astrophysics.
In 2013, the exact source of cosmic rays was found to be supernovae. Stefan Funk of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, along with Pat Slane of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to make the discovery. The telescope, launched into orbit in 2008, was named for Enrico Fermi.
Funk and Slane detected gamma-ray emissions that are a byproduct of collisions between turbocharged protons and less energetic protons. The collisions occur inside the thin shell of material a supernova ejects into space. “Data gathered from two supernova remnants over four years carry ‘a unique, smoking-gun signature that now, for the first time, provides incontrovertible evidence’ that these expanding shells, known as supernova remnants, are accelerating protons, [Funk] says,” wrote Spotts.
What other properties of supernova do you find supercool? Share with us in the comments.