Amateur Astronomer Captures First Burst Of Light From An Exploding Star

Posted: Feb 25 2018, 10:47am CST | by , Updated: Feb 25 2018, 12:02pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

Armature Photographer Captures First Burst of Light From an Exploding Star
Credit: UC Santa Cruz

The images provide important clues to the physical structure of the star just before its catastrophic demise

The birth of a supernova has been captured for the first time in history.

An amateur astronomer in Argentina was testing out his new camera and peering at a distant galaxy when he spotted a brilliant flash of light. It later turned out to be the first ever view of the earliest stage of a supernova.

Supernova is an unusual event that occurs late in the life cycle of a massive star and results in a gigantic explosion. The explosion is characterized by an intense burst of light. But surprisingly supernova has never been captured before. Since stars randomly explode in the sky and it is difficult to locate their first traces, the chances of catching the first glimpse of supernova are about 1 in 10 million.

“Professional astronomers have long been searching for such an event," said UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, who followed up the discovery at the Lick and Keck observatories. "Observations of stars in the first moments they begin exploding provide information that cannot be directly obtained in any other way."

Argentinean astronomer, Buso of Rosario, spotted the explosion on Sept. 20, 2016, when he was taking photographs of the spiral galaxy called NGC 613 with his new camera, mounted on a 16-inch telescope. The galaxy is about 80 million light-years from Earth and located within the southern constellation Sculptor.

While going through the images, he noticed a faint point of light quickly brightening near the end of a spiral arm. When Buso shared his photographic findings with astronomers, they realized that it is indeed a rare event. Buso's photographs include images of a distant galaxy before and after the supernova's "shock breakout"- a stage where a supersonic pressure wave from the exploding core of the star hits and heats the gas at the star's surface to a very high temperature, causing it to emit light and rapidly brighten.

"It's like winning the cosmic lottery,” Filippenko said.

By combining the data with theoretical models, researchers estimate that the star was about 20 times massive than our sun, but now it has lost most of its mass.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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