Where Have all the Supernovae Gone?

An exceptionally young supernova might be the key to solving a long-standing galactic mystery

The G1.9+0.3

(NASA/CXC/NCSU/S.Reynolds et al.); (NSF/NRAO/VLA/Cambridge/D.Green et al.); Infrared (2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF/CfA/E.Bressert)

Supernovae are responsible for producing and distributing the elements at the base of life, specifically oxygen and carbon. Every galaxy should have a certain number of them, according to known distributions. But the Milky Way is a strange exception. Our galaxy comes up far short in its count and that's got scientists wondering where they're all hiding. One possibility is that they're all younger than we'd expected and so we weren't looking in the right places. A newly rediscovered object called G1.9+0.3, located about 26,000 light-years from Earth, could provide the answer.

It's the remnants of an exceptionally young supernova, only nobody recognized that fact when it was first discovered in 1985. It was only last year that researchers at NASA took another look and found that it had expanded its boundaries by 16%, making it the fastest moving supernova remnant ever seen. That speed could be the key to why supernovas in our galaxy are so scarce; the wavelengths at which its energy is being expelled are not usually looked for by astronomers. Now that we've discovered a new way to search, the hope is we'll see that other supernovae have been out there all along.