A Supernova Was Imaged Just Three Hours After Detonation

Graphic breaking down the information collected by the survey. Image: Ofer Yaron
Graphic breaking down the information collected by the survey. Image: Ofer Yaron
“Those are the earliest spectra ever taken of a supernova explosion.”

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

Scientists have snagged the earliest observations of a supernova ever captured, taken only three hours after a dying star began its fatally explosive finale. The research, published Monday in Nature Physics, opens a new window into the leadup and immediate fallout of stellar self-detonation, information that is normally blown into oblivion before astronomers have a chance to study it.

„There’s a limited time window,“ said study author Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist based at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, in a Skype interview with Motherboard. Within days, he said, supernova ejecta traveling at the incredible velocity of 10,000 kilometers per second engulf the regions surrounding exploding stars, destroying evidence of the initial collapse.

But this particular supernova, called SN 2013fs, was spotted early on October 6, 2013 by the California-based Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF). This wide-field sky survey operates in real time to detect flashy transient phenomenon and trigger follow-up observations over a network of facilities around the world.

Located in the galaxy NGC 7610, about 160 million light years from the Milky Way, SN 2013fs was flagged by iPTF swiftly enough for scientists to glimpse the dense disk of circumstellar material kicked off by the star during its death rattles. (Scientists observed light from the young supernova arriving at Earth; the event itself occurred over 100 million years ago.)

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