Thursday, 21 June, 2018

Amateur astronomer spots rare first light from exploding star

Amateur astronomer spots rare first light from exploding star Amateur astronomer spots rare first light from exploding star
Theresa Hayes | 22 February, 2018, 12:49

Little did the Argentinian man know at first that he had captured an image that had so far failed to be captured by full-time astronomers: the first light of a massive exploding star. In doing so, he managed to unintentionally capture an explosion in the distant spiral galaxy NGC 613, as he took the first known photos of the moment a supernova first explodes into a giant fiery ball of energy. Continued observations and analysis of the original images helped astronomers learn a lot about the star that preceded the explosion, as well as the early stages of supernovae in general. Instead, he was performing tests on a new camera. The powerful waves heat the gas presence on the dead star and emit light termed as shock breakout that Buso has captured. The images are providing scientists with important clues into the nature of supernovae and the physical composition of stars fated to explode.

Observations of stars in the first moments they begin exploding provide information that can not be directly obtained in any other way. Buso's data are exceptional.

It may be noted that Filippenko's group included many undergraduate amateur astronomers and student and is supported by the Christopher R. Redlich Fund, Gary and Cynthia Bengier, the TABASGO Foundation.

Víctor Buso first spotted the explosion September 20, 2016 in the spiral galaxy NGC 613.

Unaware of what is to come, the astronomer took a series of 20-second exposure image over the next hour and a half. The object steadily brightens for about 25 minutes, as shown quantitatively in the lower-right panel. However, when he compared the results with online images from other observatories, he spotted something weird, a muted speck of light which appeared to be growing brighter at the end of the galaxy's spiral arm.

Astronomer Melina Bersten and her colleagues at the Instituto de Astrofisica de La Plata in Argentina soon learned of the serendipitous discovery and realised that Buso had caught a rare event, part of the first hour after light emerges from a massive exploding star. Buso just happened to be pointing his camera in exactly the right direction at the right time, and the researchers estimate his chances of winning this "cosmic lottery" could have been as low as one in 100 million.

This allowed the worldwide team to determine that the explosion was a Type IIb supernova, a massive exploding star that had previously lost most of its hydrogen envelope.

The unfolding drama was also observed with the twin 10-meter telescopes of the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii.

The team calculated that SN 2016gkg started at around 20 times the mass of our Sun and lost three quarters of its mass, possibly to a companion star.

Amateur astronomers have made some pretty incredible observations in the past, including asteroids striking Jupiter, a brand-new system of four Super-Earth exoplanets, and just recently, the rediscovery of a NASA satellite long thought lost.

This type of supernova usually means the exploding star has already thrown off much of its hydrogen envelope.