Supernova alert! Astronomers spot warning sign
Astronomers have identified the early warning sign of an imminent supernova: a stellar belch that could indicate the star will explode within a month or two.
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The close timing between the outburst and the ensuing supernova suggest they are related, lead author Eran Ofek of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel said in an email interview. Probability models revealed there was only a 0.1 percent chance that the outburst was a random event.Skip to next paragraph
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"Our discovery of SN 2010mc shows that we can mark the imminent death of a massive star. By predicting the explosion, we can catch it in the act," Kasliwal said.
Comparing their data with three models proposed for how the preceding explosion might have occurred, the researchers found that gravity waves helped drive mass to the star's atmosphere. Gravity waves are fluctuations caused by matter rising due to buoyancy and sinking due to gravity.
"For a star like our sun, the energy it is emitting from the fusion of hydrogen into helium deep in the core exerts an outward pressure on the star, usually counteracted by an inward pressure from gravity. However, if the star's luminosity increases above a certain amount — the so-called Eddington luminosity — the outward pressure from the resulting radiation is strong enough to overcome the gravity, which can then power an outflow of material," Sullivan explained. "Gravity waves can act as a conduit to translate this large, super-Eddington luminosity in the core into an ejection of material from the outer envelope of the star, just like we observed."
The scientists detail their findings in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Nature.
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