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NASA's Hubble Breaks Record, Finds Furthest Supernova Yet

Update Date: Apr 04, 2013 10:30 PM EDT

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the farthest supernova of the type used to measure cosmic distances.

NASA said in a statement on Thursday that Supernova UDS10Wil, which exploded more than 10 billion years ago, belongs to a special class called Type Ia supernovae, a kind of light beacon prized by astronomers because they provide a consistent level of brightness that can be used to measure the expansion of space.

"This new distance record holder opens a window into the early Universe, offering important new insights into how these supernovae form," explained astronomer David O. Jones of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

"At that epoch, we can test theories about how reliable these detonations are for understanding the evolution of the Universe and its expansion."

The discovery was part of a three-year Hubble program, begun in 2010, to survey faraway Type Ia supernovae and determine whether they have changed during the 13.8 billion years since the explosive birth of the universe.

 Astronomers took advantage of the sharpness and versatility of Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to search for supernovae in near-infrared light and verify their distance with spectroscopy. Leading the work is Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and Johns Hopkins University.

"The Type Ia supernovae give us the most precise yardstick ever built, but we're not quite sure if it always measures exactly a yard," said team member Steve Rodney of Johns Hopkins University. "The more we understand these supernovae, the more precise our cosmic yardstick will become."

Rodney said scientists need to learn about Type Ia supernovae the more accurate their yardstick for determining cosmic distances becomes. SN Wilson is approximately four percent more distant than the previous record, which was announced just three months ago.

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