Deep in space, a red supergiant flies off dramatically.
For years, experts thought the universe’s largest stars, the red supergiants, died with a whisper. But in 2020 astronomers saw the exact opposite. One of these gleaming monsters – 10 times more massive than the Sun – violently self-destructed after presenting the universe with the ultimate, radiant beacon of starlight.
“This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what big stars do before they die,” Wynn Jacobson-Gallen said in a statement Thursday. Jacobson-Gallen is an astronomy research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and was formerly a graduate student researcher at Northwestern University, where the dying star was studied. “For the first time ever, we saw a red supergiant star explode.”
Jacobson-Gallen is lead author of a paper published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal documenting the star’s explosion as well as its final, 130-day storm.
Under careful observation by the research team, members observed the stellar Leviathan, located about 120 million light-years from Earth, in the galaxy NGC 5731, which was shining before its death, offering a spectacular but ominous goodbye to the land of the living.
“It’s like seeing a ticking time bomb,” Raffaella Margutti, the Northwestern Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics and the paper’s senior author, said in a statement.
The star’s extreme illumination indicated that it was not dormant or silent, as previously observed red supergiants had before their demise. According to the team, this luminous orb was much more active as it eroded, possibly releasing pent-up gas with great force and altering its internal structure somehow.
Then, once the “bomb” detonated, a climactic Type II supernova event called SN2020tlf filled the sky with light. “We have never confirmed such violent activity in a dying red supergiant star, where we see it produce such a luminous emission, then collapse and burn up,” Margutti said. “So far.”
Researchers revel from afar Collecting data from Hawaii’s Keck Observatory Deep Imaging and Multi-Object Spectrograph as well as the Near Infrared Echelon Spectrograph. This innovative method of retrieving astrophysical information from afar promotes discoveries in a timely manner.
In the future, the group hopes to continue using the remote method to document even more surprising transient events, including other giant supernovae, such as the one described in their recent study. “I am most excited by all the new ‘unknowns’ that have been unlocked by this discovery,” Jacobson-Gallen said.
The detection of more events such as SN2020tlf, said Jacobson-Gallen, “will dramatically affect how we define the final months of stellar evolution, uniting observers and theorists to solve the mystery of how large-scale But how do stars spend the last moments of their lives. ,