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Amateur Astronomer Captures The Birth Of A Supernova While Testing A New Camera

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Amateur astronomer Victor Buso of Rosario, Argentina won in a cosmic lottery. He fortuitously captured the birth of a supernova while testing a new camera.

On Sept. 20, 2016, Buso, a self-taught astronomer, was eager to test the newly mounted camera of his Newtonian telescope.

He didn't want to disturb his neighbors with the loud noise of opening his rooftop observatory, so he pointed the 15.7-inch telescope through a gap and focused it on a spiral galaxy NGC 613.

Stellar Explosion

Buso trained the camera on the NGC 613 galaxy that is 65 million light-years away from Earth.

He spotted a bright speck of light that glowed even brighter. He snapped images of rapidly increasing brightness in the sky that he has not seen before.

Astronomers who have studied the images conclude that the rapidly increasing glow that Buso captured came from a stellar explosion, and the brightness indicates shockwaves from the birth of supernova.

"The electromagnetic emission during the first minutes to hours after the emergence of the shock from the stellar surface conveys important information about the final evolution and structure of the exploding star," study authors said.

Perfect Timing

"I thought, 'My God, what is this?,'" says Buso when he looked back at the images he captured that night. His timing was perfect, and the odds of his experience are considered one in a hundred million.

Over approximately one and a half hours, Buso captured the galaxy with a clear filter while a supernova was being born. The amateur astronomer used 20-second exposures to avoid saturation caused by the bright city sky.

An initial series of 40 images obtained during first 20 minutes showed no sign of the supernova. When Buso resumed observation after an interval of 45 minutes, the supernova became visible. During the remaining 25 minutes of his observation that night, the luminosity of the supernova doubled.

Envy Of Professional Astronomers

A day after Buso captured the images, he reported the discovery to the International Astronomical Union, a body of professional astronomers.

Due to Buso's sighting, professional astronomers were able to study the supernova at an early stage and further research what kind of star had birthed it.

Through analysis of the images from the event, astronomers predict that the supernova 2016gkg is a Type IIb supernova that emerged from a massive star that has lost most of its hydrogen envelope before it explodes.

Buso's experience is now the envy of many astronomers.

"Professional stargazers have long been searching for such an event," according to study coauthor Alex Filippenko, an astronomer at the University of California Berkely.

The preliminary findings of the study "A surge of light at the birth of a supernova" is published in the journal Nature.

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