What Happens Before the Supernova Scientists Can Observe Stars Moments Before Its Explosion

Astronomers at the University of California-Berkeley have achieved something unprecedented in the field's history: observing a star moments before its explosion – or “ supernova ” -, using a telescope in Hawaii (among many others), in what, according to experts, was a of the “most intriguing” events of its kind.

Normally, supernova observations gather information about what happens after the explosion, so knowing exactly what happens just before the explosion was something modern astronomy still couldn't answer.

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Illustration shows a red supergiant star before it explodes.
Starbursts are hard to spot before they happen, but team of US astronomers has done it in new study (Image: Alex G Scand/Shutterstock)

This, however, has changed thanks to the star – classified as a red supergiant – located in galaxy NGC 5731, positioned 120 million light years from Earth.

"This is a unique moment in our understanding of what massive stars do just before they die," said Wynn Jacobson-Galán, a Berkeley astronomical researcher and lead author of the new study reporting the event's findings. "For the first time, we were able to watch a red supergiant explode!"

According to the communiqué signed by him, the star in question had been observed since July 2020 – well before its explosion – but only in September of the same year did it actually explode. The scientists collected information from the object using a number of telescopes – beyond Hawaii structure, Space Observatory Neil Gehrels Swift NASA also helped, appearing shortly after the supernova.

Putting all the material together, the scientists were able to determine details such as the behavior of the spatial neighborhood around the star and how it had been behaving in its last days.

According to the study, in the last four months of life, the star began to emit a lot of light , which was the main news: before the new study, there was no indication of behavior change in red supergiants about to explode, but the SN event 2020tlf suggests that there are some caveats to pay attention to.

"It's like watching the countdown of a time bomb," said Raffaella Margutti, also of Berkeley and co-author of the study. "We had never confirmed such violent activity by a dying red star, in which we saw it produce a very luminous emission, then collapse and explode."

Based on these details, astronomers hope to review observations of other red supergiants in hopes of discovering more information about supernovae – preferably before they occur.

Full details are published in The Astrophysical Journal .

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The post What Happens Before the Supernova Scientists are able to observe a star moments before its explosion first appeared in Gaze Digital .

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