Murphy's Supernova

I confidently predict when the next galactic supernova will take place...


Late 2008 or early 2009.

Supernovae occur on average once or twice per century in the Milky Way.
But we have not seen one for over 300 years now.

Not counting SN1987a - that was in the Large Magellanic Clouds.

It is quite possible that there were supernovae within the Milky Way that we missed in the 18th and 19th centuries, most likely on the far side of the Milky Way, obscured by the galactic center. It is tempting to think there might have been some in the galactic center, but I think we would have seen the remnant in the infrared by now, if there had been any in the last 300 years. So any we missed would have to be on the far side.
Or we might just have been a little bit unlucky, and there just weren't any. Not that unlikely.
Certainly there has been no galactic supernova in the modern era of astronomy, say the last 50-100 years.

So, we're overdue.

Right now, LIGO is in "science run 5" - this is a two year observational period, soon to to be finished, where the two LIGO gravitational wave detectors in Hanford WA and Louisiana are operating concurrently, at their design sensititivites, total concurrent on time will be one year (they are not running 100% of the time, and they want to get one year total time with both detectors on at the same time).
The LIGO detectors at current sensitivities would have to be quite lucky to see an extragalactic source, but ought to comfortably detect any supernova in the milky way - before we see the light from it, hopefully concurrent with a neutrino signature.
But, later this year they will turn off and spend ~ 18 months in upgrade, before going back on for another two years, after which they go off for probably 2 years to upgrade to "Advanced LIGO" which should certainly detect multiple sources even if nothing serendipitous is seen before.

Now, in the US there is also a bar detector for gravitational radiation, ALLEGRO

ALLEGRO is very sensitive in a narrow frequency band, and has been running continuously as "supernova insurance" - the only realistic hope for an ALLEGRO detection is a supernova going off within the Milky Way.

ALLEGRO is about to be turned off - the funding is out, and the temporary supplementary funding they got to run in parallel with LIGO is out also.
It is a tiny amount of money, appropriate for insurance and low level of technology development, but funding is tight and new stuff must be done.

So... there will be no gravitational radiation detectors on in the US for a year or two (GEO-600 in Germany should be running, don't know its duty cycle, and VIRGO in Italy is coming on line soon).

BUT! We're not done yet.
The Spitzer infrared space telescope is going to run out of coolant in the next couple of years, probably early 2009.
Spitzer would be useful for infrared imaging, especially if the supernova is obscured.
JWST will not yet be launched, but Hubble ought to be limping along still, and maybe even be refurbished. It might be in post-refurbish commission mode even! In which case it might not respond efficiently to targets of opportunity, there'd probably be a narrow time window where Hubble was just not back up to speed (ok, we'd use good old NICMOS and take our chances...).

So, US astronomy might be more or less blind in space for a short time, overlapping with the time the gravitational radiation detectors are down.

By Murphy's Law, the most powerful of all physical principles, that is when the next nearby galactic supernova will go off.
With just enough obscuration that optical ground telescopes will be useless and ground based near IR will see something but not as much as want.

You know it has to be that way.


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As a upcoming first year graduate student who wants to do work on LIGO/LISA projects, I would break down and cry if that happened.

Clever insurance, making a bold claim. That in itself may stave off the SN :)

Someone at LIGO should be paying you for this stuff...

As Blake pointed out there are multiple neutrino detectors
running online during this period, so we shall definitely know
if and when there is a core-collapse SN. See
Also there is a lot of R & D going on for hep-ph/0309300
So we could be able to detect relic SN neutrinos also.

"Certainly there has been no galactic supernova in the modern era of astronomy, say the last 50-100 years. So, we're overdue."

This is a Quantum Monte Carlo Fallacy entangled in what Americans call Murphy's Law and Scots call "Sod's Law."

We're overdue for an Ice Age. All the observations about Global Warming are preventing it.

We're WAY overdue for another Big Bang.

Good science is falsifiable, so we'll look (with our naked eyes - hopefully it won't be obscured by dust!) for your galactic supernova. I further propose that it'll be Betelgeuse...


BTW, you said "we see the light from it, hopefully concurrent with a neutrino signature."

If neutrinos have mass, as it seems, we should see the supernova flash *before* we see the neutrino signature, no?

Actually, neutrinos have so little mass that they travel for all practical purposes at light speed. On top of that, because they slip through matter much more effectively than photons, they can escape the core collapse with much greater ease, and so we see the neutrino signature first.

When a star goes boom, the neutrino signature escapes within tens of seconds, but the electromagnetic signal may not become apparent for hours or days later.

Eta Carina is also a good SN candidate.

Interesting; thanks for the clarification about the neutrinos.

Sure, Eta Carinae may be a good SN candidate, but *I* won't be able to see it (at least right away) because of my latitude!


Mmm, but we'll still have a nice complement of X-ray satellites in space--Chandra, XMM, Integral, Swift, RXTE, maybe even GLAST by that point. We have never had such an excellent array of X-ray observatories in orbit as now, and with several of them monitoring the Galactic Center routinely for the next several years. As far as I know, all SN produce nice X-ray signatures, so we'll get quite a lot of data from any galactic SN going off in the next few years. Maybe measure X-ray pulsations from a newly-born NS...that would be nice...
So clearly the next SN should wait about 10 years, assuming NASA continues to try to go to Mars, and most of these satellites will be dead, JWST might not be up yet, and catch Advanced LIGO during an upgrade. No way to avoid the ground-based adaptive optics groups, or probably some radio observatories.

Of course we will have neutrino detectors, that is how we will know there was a supernova.
It would be just perfect if we detected gravitational radiation concurrent with neutrinos (though any small offset in timing would be veeery interesting), and well before the light came out!
Hence Murphy.
GLAST might see something, but it'd be "over thataway somewhere", not quite a picture.
RXTE is being shut down, no? So we have to hope Chandra and Swift are up and running to see anything interesting.

But really we want LIGO in some flavour and a near/mid-IR space imager and spectroscope to be up for a galactic supernova.

In fact I'll refine my prediction and say the most likely time (and, yes, dear concerned graduate students, I DO TO understand the notion of statistics of independent effects and the limitations of Poisson distribution in the small number limit - this is MURPHY'S LAW we're talking about here!), as I was saying the most likely time is between Nov 2008 and Feb 2009.
In fact christmas 2008.

If I'm wrong, well, it is Murphy's second law, and anyway, no one will remember or care.