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Supernova spotted shortly after explosion

Spectra from just hours after blast provide details of star’s last days

11:00am, February 13, 2017

BRIGHT AND EARLY Scientists caught an early glimpse of an exploding star in the galaxy NGC7610 (shown before the supernova). Light from the explosion revealed that gas (orange) surrounded the star, indicating that the star spurted out gas in advance of the blast.

Astronomers have caught a star exploding just hours after light from the eruption first reached Earth. Measurements of the blast’s light suggest that the star rapidly belched gas in the run-up to its demise. That would be surprising — most scientists think the first outward sign of a supernova is the explosion itself.

“Several years ago, to catch a supernova early would mean to detect it at several days, a week, or maybe more, after the explosion,” says astrophysicist Ofer Yaron of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. Now, he says, “we talk about day one." Although previous supernovas have been seen this early, the new observation is the earliest one with a spectrum — an accounting of the emitted light broken up by wavelength — taken six hours after the explosion, Yaron and colleagues report online February 13 in Nature Physics.

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