Death Throes of Red Supergiant Star Observed In Real Time

“For the first time, astronomers were able to observe the death throes of a red supergiant star in real time,” writes Slashdot reader quonset from a report via CNN. “The fortuitous event came about when astronomers were first alerted in the summer of 2020 by a release of bright radiation detected by the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy Pan-STARRS telescope on Maui’s Haleakal. Then, In the fall, astronomers witnessed a supernova form in the same spot.” From the report: Before they go out in a blaze of glory, some stars experience violent eruptions or release glowing hot layers of gas. Until astronomers witnessed this event, they believed that red supergiants were relatively quiet before exploding into a supernova or collapsing into a dense neutron star. Instead, scientists watched the star self-destruct in dramatic fashion before collapsing in a type II supernova. This star death is the rapid collapse and violent explosion of a massive star after it has burned through the hydrogen, helium and other elements in its core. All that remains is the star’s iron, but iron can’t fuse so the star will run out of energy. When that happens, the iron collapses and causes the supernova. A study detailing these findings published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal.

“It’s like watching a ticking time bomb,” said senior study author Raffaella Margutti, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Berkeley, in a statement. “We’ve never confirmed such violent activity in a dying red supergiant star where we see it produce such a luminous emission, then collapse and combust, until now.” Some of these massive stars likely experience consequential internal changes that cause the tumultuous release of gas before they die, the finding has shown.

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