Exploded star in a galaxy 160 million light years away spotted by researchers

A supernova is a highly rare astronomical event that marks an explosive finish for the select few stars that are destined for such an end. Despite the catastrophic spectacle of the explosion of the dying star, the observations of these events have been surprisingly scarce.

On February 13, a study published in the scientific journal Nature Physics, their observations of a supernova estimated to be a young three hours old, marking it down to be the earliest one detected so far, occurring around 160 million years ago. This type II supernova, named SN 1054, is located in the spiral armed galaxy NGC 7610.

Researchers at the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (IPTF) in California first recorded this rarely sighted baby supernova on October 6, 2013, and the exploding star was found to be the remnant of an aged red supergiant with a size many hundred times greater than our dwarf Sun.

Once researchers identified what they had stumbled onto at the IPTF, it propelled international observational efforts including the Palomar’s 60-inch telescope, the Las Cumbres Observatory, the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and NASA’s Swift satellite to combine forces and discover the early uncharted territory of this supernova.

More surprisingly the secondary data observations revealed a cocoon of the gas cloud surrounding the dying star that the star itself began to spit out around a year before its explosive end, at speeds of around 100km per second. However once the core of the star collapsed initiating the supernova, this shell would be annihilated by the outward expulsion of the rest of the star material at speeds of 10000 km per second. This has lead to the pre-supernova gas cloud shell formation to remain unidentified by researchers in the past.

Therefore, these early ripples of material spewed out by the star before its end have enlightened the researchers with the instability of the dying stars, while the three-hour old supernova has provided the first opportunity for researchers to measure the light from such early stages of the event. The young supernova has also allowed a greater insight into the how a dying star transitions to its explosive demise and the findings will hopefully pave way for further understanding the genesis of supernovas.

Palwasha Najeeb, Correspondent (Science)