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Amateur astronomer captures the first light of a supernova's explosion
23 February 2018, 04:29 | Clyde Nash
Amateur astronomer captures a supernova's 1st light
The moment a supernova becomes visible in the sky has been captured by an amateur astronomer, and has helped an worldwide team of researchers validate theoretical predictions about the initial evolution of such stellar explosions.
The Argentine enthusiast had managed to catch a star in the act of exploding, creating a supernova.
To date, no one has been able to capture the "first optical light" from a supernova, since stars explode seemingly at random in the sky, and the burst is fleeting. The chances of this discovery, scientists say, are 1-in-a-million at best.
Further study of the star's brilliant death may provide valuable clues to the physical structure of supermassive stars just before their flashy demise.
Structural and composition information captured in the very first moments of a star's explosion can not be obtained in any other way, and scientists were quick to train the Shane 3-meter telescope at the University of California's Lick Observatory near San Jose, California, and the twin 10-meter telescopes of the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, onto the expanding supernova. Scientists and other professional astronomers have long wanted to observe the beginning of a star's explosion - a type of information that, according to the veteran astronomer, can't be obtained in any other way.
Alex Filippenko, an astronomer that performed follow-up research into Buso's pictures, describes the pictures as being "like winning the cosmic lottery". He took some shots of the spiral galaxy NGC 613 - which lies about 80 million light-years from Earth, in the southern constellation Sculptor - and spotted something interesting: a brightening pinprick of light near the end of a spiral arm.
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The chances of such a discovery are one in 10 million-or perhaps even one in 100 million, said Melina Bersten, a professional astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de La Plata in Argentina.
After Buso detected the supernova, a Type llb supernova, the astronomers started to examine it for two months and they tried to study the supernova cracking up the light into various wavelengths.
The bright point of light that's originated when a star explodes - thus, dies - is what is known as a supernova. Bersten immediately contacted an global group of astronomers to help conduct additional frequent observations of SN 2016gkg over the next two months, revealing more about the type of star that exploded and the nature of the explosion. "Buso's data is exceptional", he added.
Amateur astronomer Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613.
The astronomer and his colleagues obtained a series of seven spectra, where the light is broken up into its component colours, as in a rainbow.
The team combined that data and their theoretical models, it estimated that the star long-before-the-explosion mass was at least 20 times the mass of our Sun. But it had probably shrunk to just five solar masses before the explosion, owing to the gravitational tug of its companion star. The supernova's light curve may be able to reveal more about the material surrounding the star, which could help provide more insight into how stars in binary pairs pull mass off of each other - and how this relationship might affect a star's evolution.
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