Hubble Frontier Fields Program extended (and time travel)

SN_predictionhe Hubble Frontier Fields (HFF) program has been recently extended to include two additional clusters to this spectacular data set. This is great news for science. To date, the HFF has provided the best data set to study the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters (the same data set is used for other exciting projects). Currently, the HFF is covering two clusters (from the original set of 4). One of them is MACSJ1149.5+2223. This cluster is interesting for several reasons. One of them is the fact that a supernova at z=1.491  was observed by Hubble in one of the observing campaings. This supernova is seen 4 times, in a configuration known as Einstein cross. The multiple images observed by Hubble are distorted versions of the original supernova that are multiply lensed 4 times (gravitational lensing). One interesting feature of gravitational lensing is that since the paths of photons are distorted by the gravitational potential, and so is their time of arrival to our telescopes on earth. Because of this time difference, multiply lensed images of the same background object are seeing in different epochs. Is like seeing your kids simultaneously when they had different ages, … weird. The supernova observed by Hubble is observed (4 times) in one of the arms of its host galaxy in just one of the counterimages but not in the other two counterimages. This means that that supernova will be observed in the future in the other two counterimages or it has already happened in those two counterimages. Since the lifetime of a supernova is short (days or weeks) and there is no way to predict when a star will go supernova it is nearly imposible to observe a star going supernova before it happens.  The multiply lensed images  of the supernova in this cluster, could in theory, allow us to predcit when a supernova is going to be observed and study the supernova explosion from the very beginning. Using accurate models of the gravitational potential we where able to predict the time difference between the different counterimages and predict when the supernova will be observed next in the different counterimages or when it was happening in those images. The figure shows the predicted time delays for the supernova observed in MACS1149. This supernova is observed now four times. Our model predicts that we are too late to observe one of the counterimages that occurred about 9 years ago but a new chance to see this supernova will take place again around November 1st 2015.  This will be the first time we can point a telescope to a position and wait for the SN to happen (again). Talk about time travel !

Original paper:

Published version:


On December 12th 2015, news broke about the reappearance of SN Refsdal at the exact predicted position posted in this article. The date of the explosion is uncertain by one month but it must have happened between November 15th and December 10th which are the dates when Hubble was observing at this location. On the November 15th observation there was no sign of the explosion but in the December 10th observation the SN had already shown up at the predicted position. The date of the original prediction (November 1st) is based on a value of the Hubble constant that is a bit out of date (h=0.7). Adopting a more recent estimate (h=0.67) and re-scaling the time delay, the best prediction for the reappearance shifts from November 1st 2015 to  November 17th, right in the window of time where we know the explosion had happened.