Astronomers had an unprecedented front-row seat to the explosive death of a star 60 million light-years away. He observed this phenomenon thanks to telescopes on the ground and in space, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

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These observations not only provided important information about what happens before a star dies, but could also help astronomers develop an early warning system for stars that are nearing their end. .

“We used to talk about supernova work like we were crime scene investigators, where we show up after the fact and try to figure out what happened to that star,” said discovery team leader and assistant professor at the university. Ryan Foley said. “It’s a different situation, because we know exactly what’s going on and we actually see the death in real time,” in a statement from the California, Santa Cruz, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.


The supernova, also known as SN 2020fqv. is called, located in the interacting butterfly galaxies, can be found in the constellation Virgo. While the star died out millions of years ago, the light from the supernova is still reaching Earth.

The supernova was discovered in April 2020 by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory at the California Institute of Technology in San Diego. The celestial event was also being observed by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. Scientists primarily use TESS to search for planets outside our solar system, but the satellite also stares at stars and makes other discoveries beyond finding exoplanets.

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Pioneering Observations Before the Death of a Star

After the breaking discovery, astronomers increasingly aimed Hubble, as well as ground-based telescopes, at the supernova. Together, the observations provided complete information about the first moments of the star’s death and its aftermath.

Hubble was able to find circumstantial material around the star shortly after the explosion. The aging star released this material in the final year before its death, giving astronomers a glimpse of what happened before the supernova.

Lead study author Samporn said, “We rarely get to probe this very close circumstellar material because it is only visible for a very short period of time, and we usually see supernovae until at least a few days after the explosion.” Don’t start watching.” Tinianont, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. “For this supernova, we were able to make ultra-sharp observations with Hubble, giving unprecedented coverage of the region right next to the exploding star.”

A study detailing these findings will soon be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Invaluable data could help find other supernovae

To understand more about the history of the star, the research team used Hubble observations of the celestial object over the past few decades. And TESS captured an image of the star every 30 minutes for several days before the supernova occurred, as well as for several weeks during and after the event.

A picture emerged of the star’s life over several decades before dying in a spectacular explosion.

“We now have the full story of what’s going on in the years before we die, at the time of death, and in the years after,” Foley said. “This is really the most detailed view of stars like this in their final moments and how they explode.”

Researchers refer to this event as the “Rosetta Stone of Supernovae”. Like the three languages ​​included in the famous ancient stone tablet, the three methods helped the research team learn more about the star.

Archival Hubble data, theoretical models and observations of the supernova helped the team determine the mass of the star, which was about 14 to 15 times the mass of the Sun before the explosion. To understand how massive stars die, it is essential to understand their mass.

“People use the term ‘Rosetta stone’ a lot. But this is the first time we’ve been able to verify the mass for a supernova in these three different ways, and they’re all consistent,” Tinianont said. . “We can now proceed using these different methods and combining them, as there are many other supernovae where we have mass from one method but not the other.”

Based on the patterns of behavior observed prior to this supernova, scientists may be able to apply their findings to find other stars on the verge of explosion. Before the star explodes, they become more active and release material.

“It could be an alert system,” Foley said. “So if you see a star start to move a little, then start acting out, maybe we should pay more attention and really try to understand what’s going on there before it explodes.” As we find more and more such supernovae. Because of the excellent data set, we will be able to better understand what is happening in the last few years of a star’s life.”