Study Witnesses First Moments of a Star Dying in Finest Detail

Some theoretical models propose that an exploding white dwarf — a star that has exhausted its nuclear fuel — hits a neighboring star to cause a supernova, which appears to be the cause of SN 2018oh. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Some theoretical models propose that an exploding white dwarf — a star that has exhausted its nuclear fuel — hits a neighboring star to cause a supernova, which appears to be the cause of SN 2018oh. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An international research team, including The Australian National University (ANU), has used the Kepler space telescope in coordination with ground-based telescopes to witness the first moments of a star dying in unprecedented detail. The astronomers witnessed the star dying a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, as part of a project that aims to solve the mystery of how stars explode.

Dr. Brad Tucker, one of the lead researchers of the survey, said about 170 million years later on February 4, 2018, the array of high-powered telescopes detected the light emanating from the exploding star, otherwise known as a supernova called SN 2018oh. Dr. Tucker, from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said:

SN 2018oh is an example of a Type Ia supernova — the kind that astronomers use to measure the expansion of the Universe and probe the nature of dark energy. Dr. Tucker said:

A typical Type Ia supernova brightens over the course of three weeks before gradually fading away, but this supernova brightened rapidly a few days after the initial explosion — about three times faster than a typical supernova at this time period.

The supernova—known as SN 2018oh—is located in a spiral galaxy called UGC 4780 in the constellation Cancer at a distance of more than 170 million light years. (Image: NASA)

The supernova — known as SN 2018oh — is located in a spiral galaxy called UGC 4780 in the constellation Cancer at a distance of more than 170 million light years. (Image: NASA)

The Dark Energy Camera at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System at Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii revealed this supernova gleaming blue during this intense period of intensity, an indication of extremely high temperatures — billions of degrees hot.

Dr. Tucker said some theoretical models propose that an exploding white dwarf — a star that has exhausted its nuclear fuel — hits a neighboring star to cause a supernova, which appears to be the cause of SN 2018oh, adding:

Dr. Tucker said finding out the frequency and distribution of this kind of Type Ia supernova would help to refine the models used in cosmology to estimate the rate of expansion of the Universe. Three papers by 130 scientists on this study will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and The Astrophysical Journal.

Provided by: Australian National University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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