An abstract of a supernova explosion in space. An abstract of a supernova explosion in space. An abstract of a supernova explosion in space. (Photo: Klavdiya Krinichnaya / Shutterstock)

Exploding supernova spotted in record time

What usually takes weeks, or even months, took these lucky scientists only three hours.

Sometimes astronomers just need to be quick on their feet.

Take, for example, what happens a when a star dies. As it collapses, it explodes into a massive supernova – a flash more than 10,000 times brighter than the sun. But unless you know when and where a star is about to explode, it can be hard to find and study the resulting supernova.

That is until Oct. 6, 2013, when some astronomers in Israel caught a lucky break. Examining the sky that fateful evening, astronomers from the country's Weizmann Institute of Science noticed a supernova. The Israeli scientists quickly contacted colleagues half a world away in California and Hawaii for help in interpreting what they were looking at. Their conclusion: They had discovered a supernova a mere three hours after it had erupted.

A diagram of the star that exploded on Oct. 6, 2013.A diagram of the star that exploded on Oct. 6, 2013. (Photo: Weizmann Institute of Science)

The researchers spent the past few years quietly sifting through their findings. When their work was finally published in this week's Nature Physics journal, it sent shockwaves around the science world.

“Until several years ago, catching a supernova a week after the explosion was regarded as early,” said Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist from Israel who led the research. “This is not the case anymore.” His team caught the event so early that they could actually still see part of the dying star.

Ofer Yaron received his Ph.D. in astrophysics and planetary sciences at Tel Aviv University.Ofer Yaron received his Ph.D. in astrophysics and planetary sciences at Tel Aviv University. (Photo: Facebook)

This is the second time in recent months that the astronomers from the Weizmann Institute have made news. In December, they revealed the explanation behind the brightest flash ever recorded in the sky. It also was related to a dying star.

Supernovas are not that common, and spotting one is even less so. “If you ask swimmers in the sea, they don’t want to see sharks. But if you ask divers, that’s all they want to see. It’s the same thing. We all hope there will be a supernova in the Milky Way soon," Yaron added. "As long as it’s not too near.”

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