Scientists have, for the first time, obtained a view of the initial burst of light from the explosion of a massive star.
Thanks to the lucky snapshots taken by an amateur astronomer in Argentina, the astronomers have been able to capture the "first optical light" from a normal supernova, which are apparently super difficult to obtain since stars explode seemingly at random in the sky and the light from shock breakout is fleeting.
Sky watcher Víctor Buso captured the images accidentally during tests of a new camera, which show a distant galaxy before and after the supernova's "shock breakout", that is, when a supersonic pressure wave from the exploding core of the star hits and heats gas at the star's surface to a very high temperature, causing it to emit light and rapidly brighten.
Observations of stars in the first moments they begin exploding provide information that cannot be directly obtained in any other way
Scientists from UC Berkeley have said the new data provides important clues to the physical structure of the star just before its catastrophic demise and to the nature of the explosion itself.
"Professional astronomers have long been searching for such an event," said Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, who followed up the discovery with more observations at the Lick and Keck observatories.
"Observations of stars in the first moments they begin exploding provide information that cannot be directly obtained in any other way. Buso's data is exceptional," he added.
"This is an outstanding example of a partnership between amateur and professional astronomers."
The discovery and results of follow-up observations from around the world of the explosion, called SN 2016gkg, have since been published in the journal Nature.
Buso caught the images on his 16-inch telescope by taking a series of short-exposure photographs of the spiral galaxy NGC 613
Buso caught the images on his 16-inch telescope by taking a series of short-exposure photographs of the spiral galaxy NGC 613, which is about 80 million light years from Earth and located within the southern constellation Sculptor.
After examining the images he noticed a faint point of light quickly brightening near the end of a spiral arm that was not visible in his first set of images, and that's how he knew it was something special.
Astronomer Melina Bersten and her colleagues at the Instituto de Astrofísica de La Plata in Argentina soon learned of the discovery and realised that Buso had caught a rare event - part of the first hour after light emerges from a massive exploding star.
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The observations were made using the Atacama Array in the Chilean desert