Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Harbingers of Death: Predicting Supernovae

A massive outburst may give a month’s advance notice of when certain giant stars will go supernova. That’s not great for evacuation plans, but perfect for observers who want to catch a supernova in action.

Three years ago a giant star gave us a signal of its impending destruction just 40 days before it happened. In a fit of frenzy, the star sent gas hurtling outward at 2,000 kilometers per second (4.5 million miles per hour), more than twice the speed of the fastest solar wind. Six weeks later the entire star exploded as a Type IIn supernova, leaving behind a tiny, dense stellar corpse.

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