Scientists were able to record the first seconds of a star’s explosion for the first time. Now they can study this process in more detail.
For the first time in history, astronomers from the Australian National University (ANU), in collaboration with NASA and an international team of researchers, captured the first moments of a supernova – the death of a star due to an explosion. They did it in details that could not have been recorded before.
ANU researchers recorded the initial burst of light that occurs when the first shock wave passes through the star before it explodes. Patrick Armstrong, who led the study, noted that astronomers are particularly interested in how the brightness of light changes before it explodes. This phenomenon is known as the “shock wave cooling curve” in order to find out which type of star caused the explosion.
“This is the first time that anyone has been able to examine in such detail the complete cooling curve of the shock wave of any supernova,” the scientists noted.
The scientists noted that because the initial supernova stage occurs so quickly, it is very difficult for most telescopes to detect this phenomenon. So far, the available data have been incomplete and have included only a darkening of the shock wave cooling curve and the subsequent explosion, but never a bright flash of light at the very beginning of a supernova.
The discovery will give us the data we need to identify other supernova stars, even after they explode. ANU researchers tested the new data against several existing star models.
Based on simulations, astronomers determined that the star that caused the supernova was most likely a yellow supergiant that is more than 100 times the size of our Sun.