A once-in-a-lifetime giant starburst in the sky

A once-in-a-lifetime giant starburst in the sky

PARIS: A massive explosion 3,000 light-years from Earth will explode in the night sky, giving amateur astronomers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this space wonder.

A binary star system in the constellation Corona Borealis — the „Northern Crown” — is too faint to be seen by the naked eye.

But every 80 years or so, exchanges between its two stars, locked in a deadly embrace, trigger a runaway nuclear explosion.

According to NASA, the light from the explosion traveled through the universe, making it look like a new star — as bright as the North Star — suddenly appeared in our night sky for days.

First discovered in 1866 by Irish polymath John Birmingham and reappearing in 1946, it will be at least the third time humans have seen the phenomenon.

Astronomer Sumner Starfield of Arizona State University told AFP he was excited to see the nova's „emission.”

After all, he has been working on T Coronae Borealis, also known as the „blaze star” since the 1960s.

Starfield is currently rushing to complete a scientific paper predicting what astronomers will discover about the next nova reappearance over the next five months.

„It could be today… but I hope not,” he laughed.

White Dwarf and Red Giant

There are only about 10 serial novae in the Milky Way and surrounding galaxies, Starfield explained.

Normal novae explode „every 100,000 years,” he said. But recurring novae repeat their eruptions in the human timeline because of a strange relationship between their two stars.

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One is a cold dying star called a red giant, which has burned through its hydrogen and expanded so much – it's waiting for our own Sun in about five billion years.

The other is a white dwarf, the late stage of a star's death, after all the atmosphere has blown away, leaving only an incredibly dense core.

Their size disparity is so great that it takes 227 days for De Coronae Borealis' white dwarf to orbit its red giant, Starfield said.

Because the two are so close, the material ejected by the red giant collects near the surface of the white dwarf.

Once Earth's mass has roughly built up on the white dwarf — which takes about 80 years — it heats up enough to kickstart a runaway thermonuclear reaction, Starfield said.

It ends in a „big bang and the temperature rises 100-200 million degrees Celsius in a few seconds,” said Joachim Kratter, a retired German astronomer who studied the nova.

The James Webb Space Telescope is one of many eyes that will turn to De Coronae Borealis once its eruption begins, Crater told AFP.

But you don't need such advanced technology to witness this rare event – whenever it happens.

„You just have to go out and look in the direction of the corona borealis,” Crater said.

Some lucky sky watchers are already gearing up for the biggest astronomical event of the year on Monday, when a rare total solar eclipse will occur across part of the United States.

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