Amateur Astronomer Accidentally Spots Super-Rare Birth of Supernova

The Whirlpool galaxy and companion

The Whirlpool galaxy and companionAn amateur astronomer from Argentina detected the birth of a supernova, which is an extremely rare phenomenon, by pure chance when he was testing his new tools.

Victor Buso recalls that on Sept. 20, 2016 he was testing a new camera he just added to his 16-inch amateur telescope. He was able to photograph a galaxy located 80 million light-years from our planet called Galaxy NGC 613.

When he looked closer at the pictures he noticed something surprising: an unusual pattern at the end of the galaxy’s spiral arm. He reported the findings to the Astrophysics Institute of La Plata, which summoned an international team of professional astronomers to study the phenomenon with more powerful astronomical instruments.

They found that the lonely astronomer had photographed the phase of a supernova called the “shock breakout,” i.e. the first burst of light from a nascent supernova. It is the first time somebody is able to capture the very rare event.

Winning the Cosmic Lottery

Buso thinks that there is a one in 10 million chances to stumble across such phenomenon and snap a picture of it. Researchers believe that the odds are even slimmer: one in 100 million.

It’s like winning the cosmic lottery,

said Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkely, who co-authored a study on the cosmic find.

Filippenko analyzed the supernova via two observatories in California and Hawaii. He praised Buso for the “exceptional” quality of his photos, which enabled an “outstanding” partnership between professionals and amateur sky gazers.

Scientists monitored the birth of supernova for around two months. They found that it is a type of supernova stemming from a massive star that exploded and collapsed very quickly because of its immense gravity.

Computer models revealed that the former star was 20 times denser than the Sun. But over many years, it had lost much of that mass to a nearby star. It likely had just 5 solar masses when it died in the final explosion.
Image Source: Wikimedia

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