Home Science Space Hubble finds mysterious object SCP 06F6! What is it?


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An international team of astronomers has found an object in deep space, which they call SCP 06F6, using the Hubble Space Telescope during a Cluster Supernova Survey. Unfortunately, the object doesn’t match up to any known astronomical body ever classified before.

The SCP in SCP 06F6 stands for “Supernova Cosmology Project.” In this case, SCP 06F6 is called by its discoverers as an “unusual optical transient.”

They write about it in their paper “Discovery of an unusual optical transient with the Hubble Space Telescope” (pdf file). It will eventually appear in The Astrophysical Journal (being accepted on September 8, 2008).

The lead author of the research is American astrophysicist Kyle Barbary, from the Department of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley.

The Hubble Space Telescope, with the use of the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) Wide Field Camera, first noticed the strange object on February 21, 2006 while searching in the direction of the constellation Boötes. It is called “the Bear Watcher” because it appears to be watching the constellations of Ursa Major (“Great Bear”) and Ursa Minor (“Little Bear”), specifically near the galaxy cluster CL 1432.5+3332.8.

Hubble saw this mysterious object brighten for about one hundred days, peak in brightness, but then fade over the second one hundred days. It went from a brightness peak of magnitude 21 down to a magnitude of 26, changing brightness by a factor of 120 in about three months.

What did the astronomers think about this mysterious object? Please read page two.

Astronomers were perplexed by what Hubble observed because SCP 06F6 did not fit into any classification of astronomical body. They tried to match it with various classes of objects.

They wrote "… in addition to being inconsistent with all known supernova types, is not matched to any spectrum in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database…. We suggest that the transient may be one of a new class." [Sky and Telescope: “Hubble Finds a Mystery Object”]

The astronomical team conclude in their paper, “If this transient does indeed represent a new class of either galactic or extragalactic transients,  such objects will be of great interest for future extensive surveys of the time-variable sky.”

The astronomers writing the article include: K. Barbary, K. S. Dawson, K. Tokita, G. Aldering, R. Amanullah, N. V. Connolly, M. Doi, L. Faccioli,V. Fadeyev, A. S. Fruchter, G. Goldhaber, A. Goobar, A. Gude, X. Huang, Y. Ihara, K. Konishi, M. Kowalski, C. Lidman, J. Meyers, T. Morokuma, P. Nugent, S. Perlmutter, D. Rubin, D. Schlege, A. L. Spadafora, N. Suzuki, H. K. Swift, N. Takanashi, R. C. Thomas, and N. Yasuda.


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