VIDEO: Astronomers observe the explosion of a star in real time for the first time

Astronomers first captured the dramatic end of a star’s life in real time before collapsing in a type II supernova.

Using two telescopes in Hawaii – the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS Institute for Astronomy in Haleakalā, Maui, and the WM Keck Observatory in Maunakea, on the island of Hawaii – scientists began to observe the star – a supergiant. red called SN 2020tlf and located about 120,000,000 light years from Earth – for 130 days before its final violent collapse, according to a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal.

During that previous period, the researchers saw how the strit, located in the galaxy NGC 5731 and about 10 times more massive than our own Sun, erupted with brilliant flashes of light as large gas globes exploded off the surface of the

There is not always “calm before the storm”

The team, which captured the moments in the framework of the Young Supernova Experiment – an ongoing project that tries to find stellar explosions in the night sky in their early stages – say that this unprecedented look at one of the most fascinating and large-scale events in the Universe shows that there is not always “calm before the storm” when it comes to supernova explosions, something that defies previous assumptions.

This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do just before they die.“Says Wynn Jacobson-Galán, a UC Berkeley NSF research fellow and lead author of the study. “Direct detection of pre-supernova activity in a red supergiant star has never been observed before in an ordinary type II supernova. For the first time, we observe the explosion of a red supergiant star, “he added.


Supernovae occur when massive stars die or run out of fuel and collapse in on themselves. The collapse is followed by a gigantic, super-bright explosion that sends shock waves through space, typically leaving a dense core surrounded by a cloud of gas called a nebula, Science Alert reports. However, this spectacular process has never been seen in real time. Up to now.

According to the WM Keck Observatory, Pan-STARRS first detected the massive star in the summer of 2020 thanks to the enormous amount of light radiated by the red supergiant. A few months later, in the fall of 2020, a supernova lit up the sky.

Subsequently, using the Keck Observatory’s Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (LRIS), the team quickly captured the powerful flash and obtained the first spectrum of the energetic explosion, dubbed supernova 2020tlf, or SN 2020tlf.

Super luminous emission

The data collected is already providing new insights. For example, there is direct evidence for the existence of dense circumstellar material surrounding the star at the time of its explosion, which the researchers believe is the same gas they had detected when expelled from the red supergiant several months earlier.

“It’s like seeing a time bomb. We have never confirmed such violent activity in a dying red supergiant star in which we saw such a luminous emission produce, then collapse and go into combustion, until now, ”says lead author Raffaella Margutti, associate professor of astronomy at UC. Berkeley.

According to the statement, the discovery challenges previous ideas about how red supergiant stars evolve just before exploding. Previously, all red supergiants did not show signs of violent eruptions or light emissions, as was observed before SN 2020tlf.

Chaotic explosions

These observations suggest that red supergiants undergo significant changes in their internal structures., leading to chaotic gas explosions in its final months before collapsing.

“What excites me the most are the new unknowns that have been revealed with this discovery,” says Jacobson-Galán. “Detecting more events like SN 2020tlf will have a dramatic impact on how we define the final months of stellar evolution, uniting observers and theorists in the quest to solve the mystery of how massive stars spend the last moments of their lives.”

(With information from DW)

Read more:
James Webb: Telescope Completes Epic Deployment Sequence
NASA Unfolds James Webb Telescope Heat Shield
The crimes that were solved in 2021 thanks to DNA analysis