Baby Supernova Sheds Light On How Stellar Explosions Happen


Images capturing the tantrums of a baby supernova, which capture was not possible before, help shed light on how giant stellar explosions occur.

Space scientists for years relied on these supernova explosions in measuring an ever expanding universe. How these stars blow up, however, was not completely understood at the time when even to catch a supernova one week after is explosion was considered early.

"This is not the case anymore," Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in Israel, told

First Baby Supernova Discovered 6 Hours After Explosion

The supernova, known as SN 2013fs, was discovered on Oct. 6, 2013, with telescopes at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA's Swift satellite. It was also detected at the Palomar Observatory in California using the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory.

Discovered three hours after its explosion, the cosmic baby belongs to the most common variety — Type II supernova. Supernova of this type collapses into a very dense nugget when it runs out of fuel and bounces back spewing dense materials outward.

The supernova, believed to be the red supergiant before its demise, is located 160 million light-years away. It was in a spiral galaxy called NGC 7610, the closest to the Milky Way.

There were only three supernova events in the Milky Way were observed for the thousands of years. The last observed supernova was Kepler's Supernova in1604 when it was seen brighter than all the stars in the sky. Its distance from Earth was not known but estimates had it at 20,000 light years.

What Does This Cosmic Baby Tell Us?

Astronomers had seen glimpses of supernovas the past years but not this close. How and why these dying stars can detonate with such violence were not fully understood.

The captured images of the cosmic baby provided the opportunity for scientists to capture "the earliest spectra ever taken of supernova explosion".

Scientists use the light spectrum to have a look at the wavelengths of the light. Stellar spectra can reveal the composition of a star because chemical elements can absorb particular wavelength.

From the light spectra of SN 2013fs, it was found out that a disk, which size is about a thousandth part of the sun, was spewed by the star before its demise.

These images tell us that the core of a star, the parent of the supernova, may experience upheavals as it nears its demise creating strong winds from the depth all the way beyond its surface.

"It's as if the star 'knows' its life is ending soon, and puffing material at an enhanced rate during its final breaths," Yaron said.

This situation is akin to a volcano bubbling before an eruption, he explained.

With the help of automated celestial surveys, such as the iPTF at Palomar, more early detections are expected that can help explain how and why such massive violence during the last gasps of a dying star occur.

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