A flash of light was captured as a supernova shockwave broke out in outer space. Update: Video.
Every time a star expires, it bursts out into flames as a supernova. A small yet sharp shockwave is also produced as a result. This is the first time that astronomers have caught this event on film in the form of optical light.
Don't Miss: The Best HDR TVs
A red supergiant star that has no more fuel to burn will collapse under its own gravitational forces. As its core gives in, a Type II Supernova is created. The star burns out in a splendid display of an energetic death.
This process of heat death usually takes weeks to reach total luminescence. The shockwave of initial brightness begins right away though. A group of astronomers from Indiana have studied data from the Kepler Space Telescope.
This telescope has been employed to observe some 50 trillion stars. A shock breakout was seen in star KSN 2011d. As the supernova grows with the passing duration, in its beginning is a shockwave that is seen via the increased light. It was sheer dumb luck that the astronomers caught the image of the exploding supernova.
That is because the whole act was over within 20 minutes. There was hardly any margin to gather any more data on the event. Understanding these phenomena will lend us greater insights into how our universe evolved through billions of years.
The diagram illustrates the brightness of a supernova event relative to the sun as it unfolds. For the first time, a supernova shockwave has been observed in the optical wavelength or visible light as it reaches the surface of the star. This early flash of light is called a shock breakout. The explosive death of this star, called KSN 2011d, as it reaches its maximum brightness takes 14 days. The shock breakout itself lasts only about 20 minutes, so catching the flash of energy is an investigative milestone for astronomers. The unceasing gaze of NASA's Kepler space telescope allowed astronomers to see, at last, this early moment as the star blows itself to bits. Supernovae like these — known as Type II — begin when the internal furnace of a star runs out of nuclear fuel causing its core to collapse as gravity takes over. This type of star is called a red supergiant star and it is 20,000 times brighter than our sun. As the supergiant star goes supernova, the energy traveling from the core reaches the surfaces with a burst of light that is 130,000,000 times brighter than the sun. The star continues to explode and grow reaching maximum brightness that is about 1,000,000,000 times brighter than the sun. Credits: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel
All the heavy elements in the cosmos came from supernova explosions. The last gram of copper, nickel and silver on earth came from such a source way back in the past. Even some of these trace minerals in our bodies came from a distant supernova. We are truly the stuff dreams are made of.
Life in fact is a stellar phenomenon. The reason behind life on earth is the events known as supernovae. The current supernova is the result of a star that is 500 times the size of our sun.
It is about 1.2 billion light years away. A thorough study of these stars and their explosions will provide valuable clues about how the wellsprings of chemical imperialism came about in the universe.
Finally, the emergence of life and its many complicated permutations will be better gauged when we know about supernovae and their many phases. Indeed, our fate as human agents are actually written in the stars both in a literal and a figurative sense.
The research is published in Astrophysical Journal.