Supernova Stars Start With a Pre-Event
Supernova stars are spectacular stars which suddenly get much brighter. This occurs in certain stars that are reaching the end of their lifetime.
Before they go all-out supernova, certain large stars undergo a sort of "mini-explosion," throwing a good-sized chunk of their material off into space. Though several models predict this behavior and evidence from supernovae points in this direction, actually observations of such pre-explosion outbursts have been rare. In new research led by Dr. Eran Ofek of the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel, scientists found such an outburst taking place a short time — just one month — before a massive star underwent a supernova explosion.
Ofek, a member of the Institute’s Particle Physics and Astrophysics Department, is a participant in the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) project (led by Prof. Shri Kulkarni of the California Institute of Technology), which searches the skies for supernova events using telescopes at the Palomar Observatory in California. He and a research team from Israel, the UK and the US decided to investigate whether outbursts could be connected to later supernovae by combing for evidence of them in observations that predated PTF supernova sightings, using tools developed by Dr. Mark Sullivan of the University of Southampton.
The fact that they found such an outburst occurring just a little over a month before the onset of the supernova explosion was something of a surprise, but the timing and mass of the ejected material helped them to validate a particular model that predicts this type of pre-explosion event. A statistical analysis showed that there was only a 0.1% chance that the outburst and supernova were unrelated occurrences.
Star studded space image via Shutterstock.
Read more at Weizmann Wonder Wander.