Amateur astronomer catches first glimpses of birth of a supernova

Feb 22, 2018

By Davide Castelvecchi

Victor Buso was eager to use the new camera on his telescope. But the amateur astronomer didn’t want to disturb his neighbours with the loud noise of opening his rooftop observatory, so he pointed his telescope through a gap in the enclosure on the night of 20 September 2016.

He trained it on a spiral galaxy called NGC 613, which is around 26 million parsecs (85 million light years) away in the southern sky, and spotted a rapidly brightening blotch of light in the series of images he was taking. Buso and a team of professional astronomers now report in Nature what seems to be the first observation of the very early stages of a supernova1.

The detection was “amazing”, says Norbert Langer, an astrophysicist at the University of Bonn in Germany. The chance of catching this event is smaller than that of hitting the jackpot in a lottery, he says.

The type of supernova the team observed occurs when a massive star runs out of nuclear-fusion fuel in its core. The star then begins to collapse, which compresses protons and electrons together and converts them into neutrons. Astrophysicists theorize that this collapse triggers a shockwave that can take up to a day to reach the star’s surface.

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