The UAE has claimed another achievement in the field of space exploration as one of its most prolific resident astronomers made a rare discovery on September 13, 2023 – the discovery of a bright new star (Type II supernova). The announcement was made on Wednesday by Khalfan Bin Sultan Al Nuaimi, President of the International Astronomy Centre.
The rare celestial observation, discovered at Abu Dhabi’s Al Khatim Astronomical Observatory by its Director, UAE-based Jordanian astronomer Mohammed Odeh, has been declared the second ‘brightest’ supernova since 2021, and the first by an Arab. The breakthrough was achieved as a part of the ongoing Supernova Search Programme initiated on November 26 of last year, according to the announcement.
In a statement, Odeh mentioned that on the evening of September 8, after approximately nine months of continuous monitoring, a bright new star was observed within the NGC 1097 galaxy located approximately 45 million light-years away from Earth. The new star shines with a magnitude of 14 luminosity. The team immediately reported the discovery to the International Astronomical Union, which officially documented it and assigned it the designation “SN 2023rve.”
Since 2021 until now, only two supernovas were brighter than “SN 2023rve” at the time of its discovery.
In an exclusive interview with Aletihad English, Odeh explained that the plan was enacted nine months ago with the goal of observing a supernova taking place inside galaxies across the universe.
“Equipped with robotic technology, the team programmed the telescopes to scan 90 galaxies every night to select one and take pictures of the targets. It’s not only a remote observatory, it’s robotic, which means we can in advance, program, a sequence the observatory to open the dome. And after it finishes, it parks the telescope and closes the roof of the mouth of the observatory.”
Talking about galaxy mapping, the director explained that they compare daily new images with old reference images using software for linking.
The new image is then examined to identify any new objects in it because supernovas appear as new stars.
“Once we see a new star in the image, at first, we must make sure it’s not an asteroid because an asteroid looks exactly like a star. When we detect any new object in an image, we go back to the global database to check the location in that time. The next step is just to make sure that no one before us discovered this star,” he said, adding that, in this case, nobody had discovered the supernova before them.
The Centre immediately sent a report to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), informing them about the discovery. IAU verified the supernova before issuing a discovery certificate, Odeh added.
“We are actually very proud because this is the first supernova discovered by an Arab observatory in the Arab world.”
Talking about recent supernova discoveries, he said there were only four supernovas observed within the last three years. Apparently, the supernova is eight times the size of our Sun, Odeh said proudly.
“It is very difficult to analyse and determine the real size of the star as it is 45 million light years away, but the math tells us that it’s approximately eight times larger than the mass of the Sun.”
Attributing the discovery to teamwork, he said, “a total of four persons were involved in different ways in the supernova discovery - it’s a big effort.”
This is Odeh’s second major contribution to the scientific space community as earlier this year, the UAE resident had an asteroid named after him, he told Khaleej Times in an interview in June.
Talking about the importance of supernovas and their impact on Earth, he noted that, while they do not impact the Earth directly, they are still important.
“Studying these events is very important because it gives us more information about the evolution of the stars, and the end of a star, like the Sun, because we know the end of our star will be similar to any other star – ending in an explosion.”
Odeh acknowledged the entire observatory team and all those who contributed to this remarkable achievement, including Osama Ghanem, Anas Mohammed, and Sameh Al Ashi.
He noted that Muslim astronomers hold an important place in the history of space research.
“Muslim astronomers had great inventions and astronomical catalogs centuries ago. We want to see the Arab world back in the field of space, and we are seeing results with recent missions and programmes.”