Amateur astronomer Victor Buso from Rosario, Argentina, snapped the first before-and-after images ever captured of a star as it explodes in a brilliant flash of light and morphs into a supernova.
Astronomers call this pivotal moment “shock breakout”, and have dreamt for decades of witnessing such a stellar metamorphosis in real time.
Melina Bersten, a scientist at the La Plata Astrophysics Institute in Argentina and lead author of a study in Nature that describes the discovery, put the odds of stumbling across it at up to 1 in 100 million.
- In September 2016, Mr. Buso was testing a new camera on his 16-inch telescope when he noticed a bright flash from the southern constellation Sculptor on one of the images.
- The galaxy hosting the star is about 80 million light years away, which is also the time it took for the light cast by the explosion to reach the earth.
- Mr. Buso knew enough to contact Ms. Bersten, who instantly realised that the weekend stargazer had found a diamond in the rough.
- She put out the word to an international group of astronomers, and within hours big-league telescopes around the world were trained on SN 2016gkg, the name given to the newly baptised supernova.
Do you know Supernova?
- A supernova is a transient astronomical event that occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of a massive star's life, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final titanic explosion. This causes the sudden appearance of a "new" bright star, before slowly fading from sight over several weeks or months.
- The word supernova was coined by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in 1931.
- Only three Milky Way naked-eye supernova events have been observed during the last thousand years, though many have been seen in other galaxies using telescopes.
- The most recent directly observed supernova in the Milky Way was Kepler's Supernova in 1604, but two more recent supernova remnants have also been found.
- Supernovae play a significant role in enriching the interstellar medium with the heavier atomic mass chemical elements.
- Expanding shock waves from supernovae can trigger the formation of new stars