Nav: Home

Supernova may have 'burped' before exploding

March 28, 2018

The slow fade of radioactive elements following a supernova allows astrophysicists to study them at length. But the universe is packed full of flash-in-the pan transient events lasting only a brief time, so quick and hard to study they remain a mystery.

Only by increasing the rate at which telescopes monitor the sky has it been possible to catch more Fast-Evolving Luminous Transients (FELTs) and begin to understand them.

According to a new study in Nature Astronomy, researchers say NASA's Kepler Space Telescope captured one of the fastest FELTs to date. Peter Garnavich, professor and department chair of astrophysics and cosmology physics at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of the study, described the event as "the most beautiful light curve we will ever get for a fast transient."

"We think these might actually be very common, these flashes, and we have just been missing them in the past because they are so fast," Garnavich said. "The fact that one occurred in the small area of the sky being monitored by Kepler means they are probably fairly common."

The FELT, captured in 2015, rose in brightness over just 2.2 days and faded completely within 10 days. Most supernovae can take 20 days to reach peak brightness and weeks to become undetectable.

Researchers debated what could be causing these particularly fast events but ultimately settled on a simple explanation: The stars "burp" before exploding and don't generate enough radioactive energy to be seen later. As the supernova runs into the gas expelled in the burp, astrophysicists observe a flash. The supernova then fades beyond their ability to detect it.

"Our conclusion was that this was a massive star that exploded, but it had a mass loss -- a wind -- that started a couple of years before it exploded," Garnavich described. "A shock ran into that wind after the explosion, and that's what caused this big flash. But it turns out to be a rather weak supernova, so within a couple of weeks we don't see the rest of the light."

The only visible activity is from the quick collision of the gas and the exploding star, where some of the kinetic energy is converted to light. One mystery that remains is why the "burp" would happen such a short time before the supernova explosion. Astrophysicists want to know how the outside of the star reacts to what's happening deep in the core, Garnavich said.

While the Kepler telescope and its K2 mission is expected to run out of fuel and end in the coming months, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is planned for launch following the K2 mission. Garnavich said data retrieved during the TESS mission could also be used to study FELTs.
-end-
The study was funded by NASA.

The study was led by Armin Rest at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Co-authors include Giovanni Strampelli, also at the Space Telescope Science Institute; David Khatami and Daniel Kasen at the University of California Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Brad E. Tucker, research fellow at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mount Stromlo Observatory and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics; Edward J. Shaya, Robert P. Olling and Richard Mushotzky at the University of Maryland; Alfredo Zenteno and R. Chris Smith at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory; Steve Margheim at the Gemini Observatory; David James and Victoria A. Villar at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and Francisco Förster at the University of Chile.

University of Notre Dame

Related Supernova Articles:

Supernova observation first of its kind using NASA satellite
Their research, detailed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, represents the first published findings about a supernova observed using TESS, and add new insights to long-held theories about the elements left behind after a white dwarf star explodes into a supernova.
Astronomers find possible elusive star behind supernova
Astronomers may have finally found a doomed star that seemed to have avoided detection before its explosive death.
Stellar thief is the surviving companion to a supernova
Hubble found the most compelling evidence that some supernovas originate in double-star systems.
Supernova may have 'burped' before exploding
Only by increasing the rate at which telescopes monitor the sky has it been possible to catch more Fast-Evolving Luminous Transients (FELTs) and begin to understand them.
An unusual white dwarf may be a supernova leftover
Astronomers have identified a white dwarf star in our galaxy that may be the leftover remains of a recently discovered type of supernova.
Researchers show how to make your own supernova
Researchers from the University of Oxford are using the largest, most intense lasers on the planet, to for the first time, show the general public how to recreate the effects of supernovae, in a laboratory.
The big star that couldn't become a supernova
For the first time in history, astronomers have been able to watch as a dying star was reborn as a black hole.
Seeing quadruple: Four images of the same supernova, a rare find
Galaxies bend light through an effect called gravitational lensing that helps astronomers peer deeper into the cosmos.
Explosive material: The making of a supernova
Pre-supernova stars may show signs of instability for months before the big explosion
Search for stellar survivor of a supernova explosion
Astronomers have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to observe the remnant of a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
More Supernova News and Supernova Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab