Watch: NASA Spots the Flash of a Supernova for the First Time

Tuesday, 22 March 2016 - 3:18PM
Space
Astronomy
Tuesday, 22 March 2016 - 3:18PM
Watch: NASA Spots the Flash of a Supernova for the First Time
Kepler has just observed the brilliant flash from the explosion of a star, or the "shock breakout" of a supernova." NASA released a simulation of the event, and it's just as stunning as one would expect it to be:



A supernova occurs as the last stellar evolutionary stage, or at the end of a star's life, when a star essentially self-destructs and explodes. The explosion briefly gives the appearance of a new, bright star, and then the star fades from sight over the course of several weeks or months. 

For this study, an international science team analyzed the stellar light that reached Kepler from 500 different galaxies, observed at 30-minute increments. As a result, they studied the light from over 50 trillion stars, and found direct observational evidence of supernovae of two different stars. The stars in question are massive red supergiants, one of which is 300 times the size of our Sun, while the other is 500 times the size of our Sun.

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"To put their size into perspective, Earth's orbit about our sun would fit comfortably within these colossal stars," study leader Peter Garnavich said in a statement.
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Supernova

While the supernova can last for weeks or months, the shock breakout itself, the exact moment that the supernova occurs, is extremely difficult to observe. It only last about 20 minutes, so Kepler has crossed a huge milestone that will tell us much more about the phenomenon.

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"In order to see something that happens on timescales of minutes, like a shock breakout, you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky," said Garnavich. "You don't know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler's vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began."
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The data from this study is already revealing more about supernovae, especially since no shock breakout was detected from the smaller of the two stars. Scientists are theorizing that the shockwave was masked by surrounding gas, which warrants further study. But more importantly, a more accurate understanding of the physics of supernova will help us understand the origin of life on Earth.

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"All heavy elements in the universe come from supernova explosions. For example, all the silver, nickel, and copper in the earth and even in our bodies came from the explosive death throes of stars," said NASA's Steve Howell. "Life exists because of supernovae."
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Science
NASA
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Astronomy

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