198 — A surge of light at the birth of a supernova

Bernsteon et al (10.1038/nature25151)

Read on 06 March 2018
#supernova  #astronomy  #telescope  #space 

One of my favorite types of scientific discovery is that of exceptional serendipity. In September of 2016, an amateur astronomer was testing his camera and, while imaging NGC 613 (a spiral galaxy), he coincidentally discovered the birth of a supernova.

SN 2016gkg turned out to be a type IIb supernova, which is coincidentally the same sort of supernova as I read about previously.

The authors of this paper were able to use this data-richness in order to model the evolution of SN 2016gkg, following the peaks of apparent magnitude as they varied with ① shock-breakout phase, ② post-shock cooling, and ③ radioactive heating. This model very closely matches the available observation data.

This sort of early detection also enables astronomers to better understand the properties of the stars that become supernovae. Because it’s usually so difficult to anticipate supernova events before they occur — after all, there are currently no known predictive models — these sorts of fortuitous recordings move the field forward dramatically. Indeed, the early warning, a product of this discovery, enabled other researchers to record the cooling period of a supernova with more temporal resolution than nearly ever before.