You’re looking at an artist’s conception of the brightest supernova ever recorded, a celestial explosion so massive it has blotted out the light of its surrounding galaxy, 4 billion light-years away. First discovered at Hawaii’s Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System observatory in 2016, scientists have spent the past several years studying the event, dubbed SN2016aps. It is perhaps the largest supernova ever seen, a catastrophic explosion that marks the end of a star’s life, CNN reports. The colossal SN2016aps likely formed when two smaller stars merged ahead of what astrophysicists refer to as a “pulsational pair-instability” supernova—a previously theoretical type of supernova that ignites pulsating waves of gas, researchers report today in Nature Astronomy. The team hopes the finding will prompt NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope to look back in time to the deaths of the very first stars in the universe.
*Correction, 15 April, 10:45 a.m.: This story originally stated that the SN2016aps supernova lasted for 4 billion years. Instead, it happened 4 billion light-years away. We have corrected the article. Also, the image is an artist’s conception; we have clarified that in the text.