First, Israeli scientists capture and study a supernova as it explodes

A team of Israeli scientists used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to capture and study a once-in-a-lifetime supernova, helping humanity better understand this amazing event.

Supernovae, or exploding stars, are once-every-century events in our galaxy, with the last observable explosion occurring hundreds of years ago. Supernovae cannot be predicted, and instead astrophysicists study their aftermath in a manner reminiscent of space archaeology.

But researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science learned about the supernova as it happened on Friday evening. They quickly contacted NASA and demanded that the Hubble Space Telescope adjust itself to capture the exploding star—a feat that was out of whack because the telescope was so far from an active engine.

Their determination and hard work – all of which took place two days before researcher Eres Zimmermann's wedding, to complicate matters further – paid off, and they were able to see in real time one of the closest supernovae in decades: a red supergiant exploding in a neighboring country. A galaxy called Messier 101. Their findings have now been published Nature.

„That's what sets this particular supernova apart,” Zimmerman said from Weizmann's Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics professor Avishai Kal-Yam's team. „We have been able to closely follow a supernova – for the first time – as its light emerges from the circumstellar material in which an exploding star is embedded.”

Researchers discovered that Hubble had already made records in this sector of the universe. Going through NASA's archives, researchers were able to obtain data from before the star's final demise, creating the most complete portrait of a supernova to date.

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(Left to right) PhD students Ido Irani and Erez Zimmerman and Professor Avishai Kal-Yam from the Weizmann Institute of Science. Photo courtesy of Weizmann Institute of Science.

In their study, the researchers mapped the two outer layers of the exploding star, leading them to hypothesize that the black hole formed following a supernova event.

„Calculations of the atmospheric material released in the explosion, as well as the density and mass of this material before and after the supernova, reveal a paradox that the missing mass is likely to end up in a black hole that formed later. The explosion – in general, is something very difficult to detect,” explained PhD student Ido Irani.

„This study provides a unique opportunity to better understand the mechanisms that lead to the end of a star's life and the eventual formation of an entirely new one,” Zimmerman concluded.

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