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Space & Astronomy

Astronomers watch red supergiant star explode for the first time

By T.K. Randall
January 7, 2022 · Comment icon 13 comments

An artist's impression of the star. Image Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko
In a world first, astronomers have had the opportunity to watch a red supergiant exploding in real time.
It's one of the most destructive events in the known universe - the demise of a supergiant star in the form of a colossal explosion of cosmic proportions - and now, for the first time, astronomers have been given a front-row seat to such an event happening right in front of their eyes.

The scientists first began to observe the star - which is situated 120 million light-years away in the NGC 5731 galaxy - back in summer 2020, but were surprised to discover a few months later that it had exploded.

By pulling together observations from multiple telescopes, the researchers were able to build up a picture of the supernova from before it exploded to a full year afterwards.

"This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die," said study lead author Wynn Jacobson-Galan from the University of California Berkeley.
"For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode!"

The team is now hoping to spot further examples to help them learn more about supernovae.

"It's like watching a ticking time bomb," said study senior author Raffaella Margutti.

"We've never confirmed such violent activity in a dying red supergiant star where we see it produce such a luminous emission, then collapse and combust, until now."

Source: | Comments (13)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by L.A.T.1961 1 year ago
It did not look big enough (10-12 solar mass) to form a black hole ? Other option is a neutron star. 
Comment icon #5 Posted by Jon the frog 1 year ago
So i'm waiting for pictures ! Will find some for sure !
Comment icon #6 Posted by L.A.T.1961 1 year ago
This is the best I could find -  
Comment icon #7 Posted by Still Waters 1 year ago
Astronomers have for the first time imaged the last moments in the life of a red supergiant star. Red supergiant was watched for 130 days before it collapsed - and scientists recreated the supernova. 0:25 video
Comment icon #8 Posted by qxcontinuum 1 year ago
I don't quite understand since what has been seen now has probably happened thousands if not million of years ago. How can they observe the sun intact, then years later it's gone in an explosion unless what they saw, already happened long time ago and they were just lucky to capture its long dead projection.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Phil1684 1 year ago
  This is old news. It happened 120 million years ago. 
Comment icon #10 Posted by Abramelin 1 year ago
No, for those who, like us, observed it for the first time it is news, despite it must have happened many millions of years ago.
Comment icon #11 Posted by L.A.T.1961 1 year ago
Comment icon #12 Posted by Manwon Lender 1 year ago
For the first time ever, astronomers have imaged in real time the dramatic end to a red supergiant's life -- watching the massive star's rapid self-destruction and final death throes before collapsing into a type II supernova. Led by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), the team observed the red supergiant during its last 130 days leading up to its deadly detonation.
Comment icon #13 Posted by HandsomeGorilla 1 year ago
Pretty cool stuff. I've been considering going back to school to pursue an astrophysics degree, things like this tinder that fire

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