Before now, researchers have never been able to watch a supernova (a massive explosion of a dying star) as it plays out. Although, as the chaotic aftermath is widely available in the universe to observe, scientists could take a pretty good guess at what actually occurs during the deadly process.
In an exciting first, a research group from the University of California Berkeley was finally able to test hypotheses against the real thing. “This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die,” stated lead author Wynn Jacobson-Galán. “For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode!”
The Keck Observatory, in Hawaii, was used to record the massive star as it “went supernova”. This star is around 10 times the mass of the Sun and is located in the NGC 5731 galaxy, around 120 million light-years from Earth.
Why is this information useful?
The observations, posted in The Astrophysical Journal, gave scientists new information about the neighborhood and behavior of the red giant in its final moments. Knowing this information has allowed theories to be updated, especially in the last four months before the explosion regarding light in their area.
Although this new finding is exciting, there is much more information to uncover. “I am most excited by all of the new ‘unknowns’ that have been unlocked by this discovery,” Jacobson-Galán said. “Detecting more events like this will dramatically impact how we define the final months of stellar evolution, uniting observers and theorists in the quest to solve the mystery on how massive stars spend the final moments of their lives.”
Source study: The Astrophysical Journal – Final Moments. I. Precursor Emission, Envelope Inflation, and Enhanced Mass Loss Preceding the Luminous Type II Supernova 2020tlf