The “brilliant flash” that occurs when a star explodes and dies has been captured for the first time by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
The “shock breakout” is captured in an animation on NASA’s website which is based on never before captured optical wavelength images of a dying star 1.2 billion light years away, collected by the Kepler telescope.
“The animation begins with a view of a red supergiant star that is 500 times bigger and 20,000 brighter than our sun,” NASA’s Ames Research Centre reports on its website. “When the star’s internal furnace can no longer sustain nuclear fusion its core collapses under gravity. A shock wave from the implosion rushes upward through the star’s layers. The shock wave initially breaks through the star’s visible surface as a series of finger-like plasma jets. Only 20 minute later the full fury of the shock wave reaches the surface and the doomed star blasts apart as a supernova explosion.”
Capturing the explosive last minutes of the star, known as KSN 20114, is a “milestone for astronomers,” NASA says.
The shock breakout was caught in 2011, but the discovery was only made public on Monday after the research paper reporting the discovery’s findings was accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
With many thanks to The Australian