Astronomers Capture Supernova from the Start

A closeup view of the supernova, viewed in X-ray wavelengths. i i

hide captionA closeup view of the supernova, viewed in X-ray wavelengths.

NASA Swift Team
A closeup view of the supernova, viewed in X-ray wavelengths.

A closeup view of the supernova, viewed in X-ray wavelengths.

NASA Swift Team

A supernova, an ultra-powerful stellar explosion, is thought to form when a massive star — about eight times the mass of the sun — runs out of nuclear fuel. The core of the star then collapses in on itself due to its own gravity, then rebounds, creating a shock wave that sends the remains of the star soaring outwards. Supernovae are quite fleeting, making studying the cosmic starbursts difficult.

Now, in a stroke of luck, researchers have a new source of data on a supernova from its initial stages. Astronomers conducting observations of one recent supernova happened to have an orbiting observatory aimed in the right direction collecting data when they caught the first signs of a second supernova in the neighborhood. The researchers were able to quickly alert other observers, collecting enough data to paint an unprecedented picture of what goes on during a supernova from the very initial stages.

Alicia Soderberg, one of the authors of a paper describing the observations published this week in the journal Nature, explains the findings.

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