Using Hubble astronomers have confirmed that it was a yellow supergiant star that was the progenitor for the nearest supernovae in decades that occurred in 2011.

Using Hubble astronomers have confirmed that it was a yellow supergiant star that was the progenitor for the nearest supernovae in decades, that occurred in 2011 in the Whirlpool Galaxy.

The uncertainty of science: As I noted in 2011 when the yellow supergiant was first detected in pre-explosion images. no theory at that time had ever proposed this kind of star as a supernova progenitor. The discovery has thus required the theorists to come up with new theories.

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.

A Yellow Supergiant Progenitor of a Massive Star Supernova in M51

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have determined that the star that went supernova in the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) in June — making it the nearest supernova in 25 years — was a yellow supergiant star, not an aging red supergiant as predicted by theory. From the preprint paper:

Despite the canonical prediction that Type II supernovae arise from red supergiants, there is mounting evidence that some stars explode as yellow supergiants. A handful of Type II supernovae have been observed to arise from yellow supergiants: supernovae 1993J, 2008cn, and 2009kr. The locations of the progenitors on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram shows clearly that these stars are not located on the predicted end points for single star stellar evolution tracks. In addition, despite arising from supposedly similar yellow supergiant progenitors, these supernovae display a wide range of properties.

The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram is a graph mapping the color of stars against their luminosity. Because color and brightness change as the star evolves over time, the graph is used by astronomers to track the birth, growth, and death of stars. That these yellow supergiants don’t appear to be at “the predicted end points for single star evolution” on the diagram is a serious problem for the theorists who have tried to explain what causes this particular type of supernova.

Which also means astronomers are still unable to tell us what stars in the sky are most likely to go supernova in the future.

The progenitor of the May supernova in M51 identified

supernova 2011dh before it exploded

The progenitor star that produced the May supernovae in the Whirlpool Galaxy (also known as M51) has been identified, and it isn’t what scientists predicted.

In a preprint paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website, astronomers describe the star that exploded as a yellow supergiant, not a red supergiant or Wolf-Rayet star, as predicted by the theory explaining this particular type of supernova. Moreover, though theory also favors the star being a member of a binary system, the progenitor of 2011dh appears to be a lone star, not even a member of a cluster.
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