May 26, 2008

Birth of a Supernova


Just a couple of days after the first image, astronomers saw a second supernova appear in the galaxy.
Courtesy of NASA

On January 9, 2008. Alicia Soderberg, a Princeton astronomer, was one of the first to realize that they were witnessing the birth of a supernova as astronomers poured over the data from the Swift telescope which captures X-ray data. What they found was the initial signs of a massive star exploding well-before visible spectrum telescopes would have the slightest clue something was happening.

“The physics of the explosion is encoded in the breakout light,” Dr. Soderberg said, adding that the chance that the Swift telescope was observing during those moments was “unfathomable.” Astronomers now know, however, that X-rays from the breakout can be an early alert. “Supernova 2008D was the first to be found from its X-ray emission,” said Robert Kirshner, a supernova expert at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, referring to the supernova by its official name, “but if we build the right type of X-ray satellites, it won’t be the last supernova we find this way.”

Normally, a supernova would only catch our attention when the energy it produces shifts into the visible spectrum - usually taking a month or more to do so. But, because the scientists realized that what they was seeing was uniquely special, a number of telescopes were able to watch the star as it died in a spectacular display. And soon, astronomers hope to capture more supernovas by watching for the signature X-rays that indicate the death of a star.

Posted by Mary at May 26, 2008 10:53 PM | Science | Technorati links |

That little fuzzy dot is probably thousands of light years wide. If just about any of the stars we can see in the night sky were to explode that way, we'd probably be toast.

Certainly makes you think, doesn't it?

Posted by: Cujo359 at May 27, 2008 01:14 PM

Beautiful. Also nice to see you covering different topics.

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Posted by: ccoaler at May 29, 2008 02:36 PM