Kepler Space Telescope captures the early flash of an exploding star.
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has captured the early flash of an exploding star for the first time. Astronomers dub this phenomenon as ‘shock breakout’ of a supernova.
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A team of international researchers started to look at 50 trillion stars spreading across 500 distant galaxies in 2011, when they observed massive explosions in two stars and captured their light variations by Kepler every 30 minutes over a three-year period. Researchers were actually searching for the signs of the event called supernovae.
Supernoave is a massive explosion which happens in the final stages of a star’s life and causes the star to burn remarkably brighter.
The two stars, known as red, supergiants are quite massive. One star, KSN 2011a, is nearly 300 times the size of the Sun and is located 700 million light years from the Earth while the other KSN 2011d is roughly 500 times the size of our Sun and about 1.2 billion light years away.
“To put their size into perspective, Earth’s orbit about our sun would fit comfortably within these colossal stars.” Lead researcher Peter Garnavich from University of Notre Dame in Indiana said in a statement.
Capturing a sudden catastrophe whether it took place on Earth or the outer space is extremely difficult. But the persistence and powerful technology of the Kepler Space Telescope allowed researchers to get the first ever look at the supernovae when the explosion erupts and a shock wave reaches the surface of the star. The breakout lasted just 20 minutes.
“We can study brightness histories from Kepler to find out what was happening in the exact hour that the shock wave from the stellar core reached the surface of the star,” said co-researcher Edward Shaya. “These events are bright enough that they change the brightness of the whole galaxy by a measurable amount.”
Researchers already had an idea about why a supernova occurs when a star runs out of the nuclear fuel and gravitational collapse takes over its surface. They thought that supernovae would appear similarly, but when they matched the massive stellar death explosions of the two stars, they found unexpected variety. No shock breakout was observed in the smaller of the two stars.
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“It is a thrill to be a part of theoretical predictions becoming an observed and tested phenomenon,” said Shaya. “We now have more than just theory to explain what happens when a supernovae shock wave reaches the surfaces of a star as that star is totally torn apart.”