“This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die.”
It’s much easier for scientists to see the messy aftermath of stellar explosions than to watch the prelude to the drama.
But finally, astronomers managed to observe a red giant star just as it “went supernova,” as exploding stars are called. Using a telescope in Hawaii, a team of scientists gathered observations of a red supergiant star in summer 2020. Lo and behold, in September, that very same star died in a supernova dubbed (SN) 2020tlf — an explosion that team members called “one of the most intriguing” supernovas of its type.
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“This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die,” Wynn Jacobson-Galán, an astronomy National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at the University of California Berkeley and lead author of a new study reporting the results, said in a statement from the Keck Observatory, where the team gathered observations. “For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode!”
In the new research, the astronomers pulled together observations of the region including the supernova from a host of telescopes, beginning as early as January 2020 and continuing for nearly a full year after the explosion. (NASA’s orbiting Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory joined the work after the star went boom.)