Friday, October 19, 2007

The Brightest Supernova So Far

SN 2006gy: Discovery of the most luminous supernova ever recorded, powered by the death of an extremely massive star like Eta Carinae
We report our discovery and observations of the peculiar Type IIn supernova SN2006gy in NGC1260, revealing that it reached a peak magnitude of -22, making it the most luminous supernova ever recorded. It is not yet clear what powers the total radiated energy of 1e51 erg, but we argue that any mechanism -- thermal emission, circumstellar interaction, or 56Ni decay -- requires a very massive progenitor star. The circumstellar interaction hypothesis would require truly exceptional conditions around the star probably experienced an LBV eruption like the 19th century eruption of eta Carinae. Alternatively, radioactive decay of 56Ni may be a less objectionable hypothesis. That power source would imply a large Ni mass of 22 Msun, requiring that SN2006gy was a pair-instability supernova where the star's core was obliterated. SN2006gy is the first supernova for which we have good reason to suspect a pair-instability explosion. Based on a number of lines of evidence, we rule out the hypothesis that SN 2006gy was a ``Type IIa'' event. Instead, we propose that the progenitor may have been a very massive evolved object like eta Carinae that, contrary to expectations, failed to completely shed its massive hydrogen envelope before it died. Our interpretation of SN2006gy implies that the most massive stars can explode earlier than expected, during the LBV phase, preventing them from ever becoming Wolf-Rayet stars. SN2006gy also suggests that the most massive stars can create brilliant supernovae instead of dying ignominious deaths through direct collapse to a black hole.

The Quantum Measurement Problem

This preprint Can the Quantum Measurement Problem be resolved within the framework of Schroedinger Dynamics and Quantum Probability? addresses a fundamental problem in the foundations of physics. Traditionally a quantum measurement consists of two physical subsystems: a quantum subsystem (like an atom) and a classical subsystem (like a measuring instrument). The quantum subsystem is modelled using the often counterintuitive framework of quantum theory and the classical subsystem is modelled using the less startling laws of classical physics. Each subsystem in isolation evolves in a reasonably straightforward deterministic fashion, but when the two subsystems are coupled together something rather mysterious happens: a quantum measurement, which is fundamentally probabilistic in nature.

Ultimately, it's expected that the "classical" subsystem should be modelled by quantum theory as well and so too the composite of the two subsystems. After all, the classic subsystem is in term made up of constituents (like atoms) which obey the laws of quantum theory. However, it's been difficult to work out a completely quantum description of the measurement process. So much so that there has even been speculation that consciousness might be irreducibly involved.