In a world first, astronomers have had the opportunity to watch a red supergiant exploding in real time.
It\’s one of the most destructive events in the known universe – the demise of a supergiant star in the form of a colossal explosion of cosmic proportions – and now, for the first time, astronomers have been given a front-row seat to such an event happening right in front of their eyes.
The scientists first began to observe the star – which is situated 120 million light-years away in the NGC 5731 galaxy – back in summer 2020, but were surprised to discover a few months later that it had exploded.
By pulling together observations from multiple telescopes, the researchers were able to build up a picture of the supernova from before it exploded to a full year afterwards.
“This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die,” said study lead author Wynn Jacobson-Galan from the University of California Berkeley.
“For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode!”
The team is now hoping to spot further examples to help them learn more about supernovae.
“It\’s like watching a ticking time bomb,” said study senior author Raffaella Margutti.
“We\’ve never confirmed such violent activity in a dying red supergiant star where we see it produce such a luminous emission, then collapse and combust, until now.”