A group of scientists got the unique chance to witness for the first time the onset of a supernova. They spotted the brilliant display of light caused by the death of a red supergiant star only 3 hours after its explosion.
The breathtaking event is called SN 2013fs and represented the first time when the scientists had the chance to look at such a ‘fresh’ supernova. This is because the light caused by star explosions is usually discovered after several days since they occur.
The supernova took place in the NGC 7610 galaxy, which is located about 160 million light-years away from Earth. The light that followed the explosion reached Earth in 2013 and it was spotted by chance by a telescope at Palomar Observatory in San Diego, California.
Until a few years ago, scientists regarded the supernovas that they had caught weeks after the explosions as early. Now, they can perform wide-field robotic sky surveys that help them detect supernovas a day or less after their explosion.
By spotting the light that follows the explosion hours after it occurs, scientists get the chance to analyze the cosmic conditions that surround a star just before the explosion.
Supernovas occur when a star runs out of nuclear fuel, so it starts feeding on its own core. This causes the core to collapse and that’s how we obtain the explosion. The light that is thus produced can be observed for a year, but the conditions of the environment should be studied more quickly.
The observations on SN 2013fs showed that the star had been surrounded by a disk of material for about a year until the supernova occurred. This matter covered the star in a 6.2 billion miles thick cloud of gas. Also, the star experienced a massive mass loss before going supernova.
SN 2013fs was a Type II supernova, which is one of the most common types. It usually involves stars that are between eight and 50 times the size of our Sun. Since they are so common, researchers think that other stars might also experience such a mass loss before extinction.
Scientists are now performing thorough studies to see if this is the common behavior of such supernovas. This will help them to have a better understanding of what occurs before the giant explosions. Also, the constant improvement of technology will soon allow them to spot supernovas even minutes after their birth.
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