ASTRONOMERS witnessed the ‘violent death’ of a red supergiant star for the first time, a new study says.
Scientists also observed the star’s final days before its massive explosion turned it into a supernova, according to the findings, which were published in the Astrophysical Journal on January 6.
The star was first discovered by researchers from Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley, in summer 2020.
The team used the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS telescope which is perched atop Haleakalā Observatory in Maui to observe the star, which data concluded was ten times more massive than our Sun.
However, much to their surprise, researchers discovered a few months later that the automated telescope had actually captured the star’s death.
The observations also revealed a lot of dense circumstellar material floating around the star during the explosion.
“The death of a massive star like this, it’s very dramatic and very violent. We’ve never really seen anything like this,” Wynn Jacobson-Galán, an astrophysicist at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study told USA TODAY
To date, supernovas are the biggest explosions ever witnessed by humans.
They typically happen when the pressure in stars that are 8 to 12 times bigger than our sun drops low enough for gravity to suddenly take over, causing the star to collapse in just seconds.
In the past, man has only witnessed the aftermath of supernovas — this normally looks like gas and other residual debris that gets shot out into space after the explosion occurs — so this observation is monumental for astronomers.
“This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die,” Jacobson-Galán said in a statement.
“Direct detection of pre-supernova activity in a red supergiant star has never been observed before in an ordinary type II supernova. For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode,” he added.
Jacobson-Galán also noted that he is excited for what this new research might unlock about stellar evolution and massive stars in the future.
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