Tag Archives: Christopher Kochanek

The first observations of a star, just prior to going supernova

Astronomers have for the first time observed the changes that took place in a binary star system in the years before one star in the system erupted as a supernova.

In the first survey of its kind, the researchers have been scanning 25 nearby galaxies for stars that brighten and dim in unusual ways, in order to catch a few that are about to meet their end. In the three years since the study began, this particular unnamed binary system in the Whirlpool Galaxy was the first among the stars they’ve cataloged to produce a supernova.

The astronomers were trying to find out if there are patterns of brightening or dimming that herald the end of a star’s life. Instead, they saw one star in this binary system dim noticeably before the other one exploded in a supernova during the summer of 2011.

Key quote: “Our underlying goal is to look for any kind of signature behavior that will enable us to identify stars before they explode,”

The supernova in question, 2011dh, was the closest supernova in decades, occurring in June 2011 in the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). See my previous posts here and here.