Thursday, May 22, 2008

Exploding star caught in the act

Ever since I first read Tintin's 'Explorers on the Moon' I have been fascinated by space and stars and wonderings of 'are we alone in the universe?' With the years my interest has moved from little green men to what scientists are able to observe and explain about our universe. Being able to actually observe a star exploding is amazing!
Astronomers have been able to capture and record the first moments when a massive star blows itself apart. After decades of searching, researchers have used the world's top telescopes to observe the remarkable event. Previously, scientists had only been able to study these "supernovas" several days after the event.

The results, published in the journal Nature, show that within two hours of the blast, a giant fireball scattered radioactive debris across space. Exploding stars, or supernovas, are some of the most spectacular events in the Universe, producing the same amount of energy as trillions of nuclear bombs detonating simultaneously.

Typically, they occur when a massive star - more than eight times the mass of the Sun - runs out of fuel and collapses to form a hot relic called a neutron star. Their extreme brightness allows them to be seen in distant galaxies. But observers cannot pick up this optical emission until several hours or days after the explosion, so a supernova's first moments are shrouded in mystery. (BBC)

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