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Supernova's death throes revealed

In archival images, astronomers see activity in weeks before giant star’s explosion

By
5:07pm, February 6, 2013

Just before a giant star blew up in a spectacular supernova explosion, it gave hints to its imminent demise. The pre-explosion activity of this star, detailed online February 6 in Nature, could enable astronomers to predict a star’s coming supernova and then watch it in real time.

“It’s a very fascinating study,” says Jon Mauerhan, an astronomer at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the research. Astronomers have only rarely witnessed the activity of a massive star before its explosion, he adds.

The star came to astronomers’ attention in August 2010 thanks to a computer program. The program scans sky survey images from a 48-inch telescope at the Palomar Observatory in Southern California and flags regions that show sudden brightening, which astronomers take as potential signs of supernovas. The researchers followed up on one such brightening 500 million light-years away and confirmed that it was a type II super

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