Supernova SN 2011fe spotted just 11 hours after it exploded | Mail Online
Sunday December 18, 2011 12:56 pm Leave a comment
This observation is typically material for Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog or Daily Mail Watch both of whom are the repository of stupid errors made by the tabloid press. But neither have picked up on this one to date, so I’ll fill in.
I grant you this is not going to keep you awake nights, but at the risk of appearing pernickety, the author of this errorfest appears to be a professional science journalist. Which is why his main error, repeated several times, is inexcusable. The Type 1a supernova is NOT the “brightest category” of supernova. If anything, it’s likely to be the least bright as it results from the smallest possible stellar mass capable of going supernova.
It’s true significance is that it is the highly predictable result of a white dwarf “accreting” extra mass from a companion star. At a certain critical mass (the “Chandrasekhar limit” – just under 1.4 solar masses), the star collapses and triggers the supernova. Because it is so predictable, its consistent brightness can be used as the “standard candle” required to measure the vast distances we have to cope with when we look beyond our solar system and galaxy. Most memorably, it was the observation of hundreds of distant Type 1a supernovae which allowed us to discover the accelerating expansion of the universe in the late 90s.
The real significance of this reportage is that it reminds us we cannot trust this newspaper (and many others) to be telling the truth.
Sometimes, of course, they are deliberately trying to deceive or obscure the facts in pursuit of their not so hidden agendae. But just as often, they fail simply because they don’t have the skills or intellect required to distinguish between fact and fiction. That limitation is not restricted to matters scientific. It’s just easier to demonstrate here than elsewhere…