Until a few years ago, the discovery of a supernova even a week after the explosion was considered early. For the first time, scientists have been able to see the first three to 10 hours of a supernova explosion. The finding sheds light on what happens in the first few hours of a dying star’s explosion, which sends massive shockwaves across the galaxy. Findings of the study were detailed Monday in the journal Nature Physics.

Astronomers Detect Early-Stage Supernova 160M Light Years Away

A red supergiant underwent massive explosion

Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and lead author of the study, said in a statement that they were able to capture the light from the supernova across multiple wavelengths including X-rays, visible light, and radio waves. According to the study, the dying stars signal their potential death by expelling huge chunks of material out in the run up to their demise.

On October 6, 2013, astronomers led by Ofer Yaron detected the supernova SN 2013fs using data from the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF) of the Palomar Observatory in California. Instantly, an alert was issued to other telescopes around the world to focus on the object to verify that it was a red supergiant that had undergone massive explosion just a few hours earlier.

It would improve our understanding of star explosions

Of course, the explosion had taken place about 160 million years ago when dinosaurs were still roaming around on Earth. Light from the supernova took 160 million years to reach our planet. The star was located in the galaxy NGC 7610 in the constellation Pegasus. Ofer Yaron told ResearchGate that direct observations of an early-stage supernova before the region is swept up by debris could improve our understanding of a star’s composition, mass-loss history, and density profiles right before the explosion.

Our understanding of supernovae is still limited because stars in their final stages are rare. For instance, there is almost zero probability that one of the up to 400 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy would die within a year, according to Space.com. The star that exploded on October 6, 2013 was 10-17 times heavier and hundreds of times wider than our sun.

It was a Type-2 supernova

Yaron said the SN 2013fs was Type-2 supernova, which is the most common. This type of explosion happens when a star’s core runs out of fuel, bloats and expands into a red supergiant, and collapses within a fraction of a second before blasting its material into outer space. Astronomers captured the emitted light in time to spot a disk of material the dying star had expelled before its demise.

Ofer Yaron told media that about a year before the star died, it expelled vast amounts of material at a speed of 224,000 miles per hour. Astronomers concluded that a star becomes highly unstable months before turning into a Type-2 supernova.