Space & Astronomy
Astronomers watch red supergiant star explode for the first time
By T.K. Randall
January 7, 2022 · 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."
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