Physicists have observed a red supergiant star exploding into a supernova for the first time

supergiant star

As our telescopes become more powerful, we’re seeing many spectacular views of space, but there’s a new candidate for the most thrilling one yet: For the first time, physicists say they’ve seen a red supergiant star explode into a supernova.

Supernova (SN) 2020tlf was observed for 130 days leading up to the colossal explosion, which was the result of the death of a star 120 million light-years away from Earth in the NGC 5731 galaxy and about 10 times more massive than our own Sun.

Read: Astronomers find celestial ruins on the edge of our galaxy.

“This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die,” says Wynn Jacobson-Galán, an astronomer from the University of California, Berkeley, and the study’s lead author.

Massive stars die or run out of fuel, causing them to collapse in on themselves, no longer balancing the forces of gravity and nuclear processes. Following the collapse, a massive, super-bright explosion occurs, sending shock waves through space and typically leaving a dense core surrounded by a cloud of gas known as a nebula.

The great level of radiated light was what originally drew astronomers’ attention to this specific star. After the explosion, the supernova was observed for another 300 days, providing astronomers much more data to work with.

The observations were made as part of the Young Supernova Experiment, an ongoing project attempting to find stellar explosions in the night sky in their very earliest stages. With the new information now available to them, it should be easier to spot supernova events before they happen.

The research has been published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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