Amateur astronomer spots rare first light from exploding star

The death of a star: 'Unprecedented' image of a supernova 80 million light years away is captured for the first time by an

(Image: Carnegie Institution for Science/Las Campinas Observatory/UC Santa Cruz/UC Berkeley).

The follow-up research was also able to figure out the type of the supernova and the details of the original star it came from.

Buso quickly noticed the unusual burst of light in his photos and contacted an worldwide group of astronomers. Instead, he was performing tests on a new camera. Buso took many short-exposure photographs of the galaxy.

Buso sent the observations to UC Berkeley and observations at the Lick and Keck observatories have now confirmed Buso was the first human to have caught the flash of a pressure wave from the exploding core of a dying star hitting the gas at its surface. In a rather lucky attempt, an amateur astronomer was able to capture the galaxy NGC 613 which he spotted a brightly lit star mimicking the characteristics of a supernova.

Professional astronomers afterwards analyzied Buso's photos, and they continued observing SN 2016gkg with big telescopes. The new data provides rare insight into a star's catastrophic demise, which was published today (Feb. 22) in Nature.

Observations like these could provide critical information to help astronomers understand how massive stars lose mass during the lifetime.

The amateur astronomer soon figured out that he would need to contact a professional astronomer in order to confirm his rare discovery. This work allowed the researchers to categorise the event, now called SN 2016gkg, as a type IIb, or the kind of supernovae thought to involve giant stars ejecting their outer hydrogen layers. Also, Buso learned by reading somewhere that supernova were more likely to appear in spiral galaxies, such as NGC 613.

Buso says that he routinely compares the images he takes from his home in Rosario, Argentina, with online archival photos from other observatories. The object steadily brightened for about 25 minutes, as shown quantitatively in the lower-right panel.

Amateur astronomer, Victor Buso, struck lucky in September 2016 when he made a decision to test out a new camera attached to his 16 inch telescope.

Little did the Argentinian man know at first that he had captured an image that had so far failed to be captured by full-time astronomers: the first light of a massive exploding star. Until Buso's image, no one had captured such an image because stars explode seemingly at random.

It's like winning the cosmic lottery.

'Professional astronomers have always been searching for such an event, ' said University of California at Berkeley astronomer Dr Alex Filippenko, who followed up the lucky discovery with scientific observations of the explosion, called SN 2016gkg.

Combining the data with theoretical models, the team estimated that the initial mass of the star was about 20 times the mass of our Sun. During supernovas, the elements inside the star are forced to forge into heavier elements that wouldn't be possible without exponentially high nuclear fusion which releases tons of energy.

Amateur astronomers have made some pretty wonderful observations in the past, including asteroids striking Jupiter, a brand-new system of four Super-Earth exoplanets, and just recently, the rediscovery of a NASA satellite long thought lost.

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