Astronomers report that they have observed the first stages of the violent death of a distant star in unprecedented clarity.
Using data from the now-retired Kepler Space Telescope and super-powerful telescopes based on Earth, a team of researchers from across the world probed the supernova SN 2018oh (also called ASASSN-18bt).
Witnessing The Death Of A Star In Crisp Detail
The star’s explosion happened a long time ago. Brad Tucker of the Australian National University revealed that the event emanated light that was detected by high-powered telescopes on Feb. 4, 2018, about 170 million years after the star’s violent end.
“With the combined data from these telescopes, astronomers achieved what they had hoped for — an unprecedented observation of the onset of a star’s death,” he said.
Tucker, one of the lead authors of the study, attributed the discovery to Kepler, which worked diligently looking at countless stars across the universe in search for planets until its final days. The space telescope retired in October after running out of fuel.
It was Kepler that observed the minute changes in brightness of the star from the very beginning of the supernova. Tucker added that before Kepler, observing the event would be “nearly impossible.”
The Dark Energy Camera in Chile and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System in Hawaii contributed by revealing the supernova gleaming blue, an indication that it is billions of degrees hot.
What Astronomers Learned From SN 2018oh
The astronomers explained that SN 2018oh is a Type Ia, a type of supernova that astronomers use to measure the expansion of the universe. A Type Ia supernova typically brightens gradually over the course of three weeks before fading away, but SN 2018oh went through the process in just a couple of days with an additional unexpected emission.
The team theorized that the light seen in the early times of the supernova could be from an exploding white star that collided with a companion star. Tom Holoien of Carnegie Science proposed that it could also be caused by the unusual distribution of radioactive material in the exploded star.
The astronomers believe that the study can be used to redefine the rate of expansion of the universe. The study was published in three parts by The Astrophysical Journal Letters and The Astrophysical Journal.