‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ Supernova Captured by Israeli Researchers

A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science have mapped an exploding star in phenomenal detail, capturing both its explosion and final years. Their study, published in Nature, offers new insights into supernovae, or exploding stars, whose conditions leading to implosion remain unclear due to their unpredictability. The last supernova observed in our galaxy occurred about 400 years ago, but advancements in telescopic technology now allow scientists to witness such explosions in distant galaxies.

The researchers compared the study of supernovae to the work of space archaeologists, who arrive at the explosion site post-event to collect remnants from the debris. They were fortunate to secure observation time on the Hubble Space Telescope and witnessed the closest supernova to Earth in decades, a red supergiant star in the Pinwheel Galaxy, neighbouring the Milky Way.

Despite the timing of the supernova’s indication arriving on a Saturday evening, the Israeli scientists managed to conduct telescopic measurements, analyse and calculate the required information, and deliver the data to their NASA colleagues within hours. This allowed the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the explosion as it unfolded.

The scientists also found that Hubble had observed this galaxy many times before and were able to extract pre-explosion images of the star from NASA’s archives. Analysis of the ultraviolet light data from the space telescope, confirmed by additional satellites, enabled scientists to measure the amount of material expelled from the star during the explosion.

The researchers concluded that the supernova likely left behind a black hole, which absorbed the missing mass. The uniqueness of this research lies in the proximity of the star and the quality of data collected, offering a rare chance to better understand the mechanisms leading to a star’s demise and the emergence of something new. The team continues to collect new data as the supernova is still in its final stages, which could potentially answer central questions about existence and the universe.

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