If they run out of fuel and their lives come to an end, stars can die in a dramatic way: they explode in an epic supernova that expels dust and gas at tremendous speed. Astronomers often see the remains of such supernovae, but recently the Hubble Space Telescope observed something much rarer when it captured a star that became a supernova.
Supernova SN 2020fqv is located in the two interacting butterfly galaxies, 60 million light years from Earth. It was first discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in April 2020 when the star was in the early stages of a supernova, and Hubble scientists quickly decided to focus on it as well.
Astronomers recently watched the supernova SN 2020fqv explode in the interacting butterfly galaxies, located about 60 million light years away in the constellation Virgo. The researchers quickly trained NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in the aftermath. AUTHOR: NASA, ESA, Ryan Foley (UC Santa Cruz) IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)
“We used to talk about supernova work as if we were investigators at the scene, where we showed up after the crime and tried to find out what happened to that star,” said team leader Ryan Foley of the University of California, Santa Cruz, in a Statement. “It’s a different situation because we really know what is going on and we actually see death in real time.”
Hubble caught a glimpse of the material around the star, called the circumstellar material, just hours after the supernova occurred. This is an incredibly rare opportunity to investigate what happened to the star in its final days, as this material is only visible to telescopes for a very short time.
Together with data from the exoplanet hunting satellite Transiting Exoplanet Survey (TESS), which was also observing the region, the scientists were able to get a picture of what happened to the star in its final years before the explosion.
“Now we have this whole story about what happened to the star in the years before he died, to death and then the aftermath of it,” Foley said. “This really is the most detailed view of stars like this in their final moments and how they explode.”
Understanding this particular star could help us understand other stars that are on the verge of becoming a supernova, such as our neighbor star Betelgeuse, which some people thought might become a supernova in 2019 (although in this case the weird one is Behavior of the star as being due to a cloud of dust and not an imminent explosion).
“That could be a warning system,” said Foley. “So if you see a star start to shiver a little, maybe we should be more careful and really try to understand what is going on there before it explodes. If we can find more and more of these supernovae with this excellent data set, we can better understand what happens in the last few years of a star’s life. “