(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers from Liverpool’s John Moores University and the University of Montpellier have developed an “early warning” system that signals when a massive star is about to end its life in a supernova explosion.
In this new study, scientists have determined that massive stars (typically 8 to 20 solar masses) in the last phase of their lives suddenly become about a hundred times fainter in visible light in the last few months before they die.
This phenomenon is caused by a sudden accumulation of material around a star that dims its light.
Until now, it was not known how long it took the star to build up this material. Now the researchers have modeled what red supergiants might look like when they are encased in these “cocoons”.
Old archives show that there are images of stars that exploded about a year after the image was taken. In these images, the stars look normal, which means that they have not yet created a theoretical circumstellar cocoon.
This suggests that the cocoon is assembled in less than a year, which is considered an extremely fast process.
“Dense material almost completely hides the star, making it 100 times fainter in the visible spectrum. This means that the day before the star exploded, you most likely would not have been able to see that it was there, ”said Benjamin Davies, an astronomer at Liverpool John Moores University, lead author of the paper.
“Until now, we could only get detailed observations of supernovae a few hours after they had already exploded.
With this early warning system, we can prepare to observe them in real time, point the world’s best telescopes at the stars and watch them literally tear apart before our eyes.”
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