An amateur astronomer was testing out his new camera when he spotted something that looked like the birth of a supernova. He captured this extremely rare event, while scientists are convinced that this is the first time anyone has captured the first flashing of a supernova. This is the phase that can last only a couple of minutes.
Researchers believe that the snaps he caught are of critical importance to understanding the evolution of supernovas. Researchers published their findings with a new analysis regarding this surge of light in the journal Nature this week.
During the night of September 20, 2016, Victor Buso was trying out his new astronomical camera for his home-made observatory in Rosario, Argentina. He wasn’t satisfied with his first pictures of different galaxies, and he decided to try taking pictures of a larger galaxy nearby called NGC 613.
“I chose the galaxy by chance but, among those in that region of the sky, it has a beautiful form with looping clouds—bright and dark,” the amateur astronomer told Newsweek in an email. Also, Buso learned by reading somewhere that supernova were more likely to appear in spiral galaxies, such as NGC 613.
He was taking 20-second exposure images and after some time, he saw that there were some photos that were different than the online images coming from other observatories.
The shining supernova appeared to be barely visible, but as he was looking at other photos, one pixel of the light appeared to be brighter and brighter. “I thought, ‘My God, what is this?’” he told Newsweek.
The amateur astronomer soon figured out that he would need to contact a professional astronomer in order to confirm his rare discovery. However, it was the middle of the night and he was unsuccessful. He decided to send some photos to another amateur, Sebastian Otero, a member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) in order to make sure that the strange event was a supernova.
This discovery is not only important for Buso, but also for the whole body of astronomy. Researchers Melina Bersten and Gastón Folatelli, part of the team working on the supernova discovery in the Nature paper, told Newsweek that Buso’s images could be the first images ever taken of a supernova being born.
“We actually think this is the first time an observer recorded the appearance of a supernova literally on camera. Some supernova have been discovered hours after explosion. But, Victor Buso caught the exact minutes when the supernova was being born,” Bersten said.
This is the biggest astronomical discovery for Buso, who has been in love with astronomy ever since he was a child. His mother encouraged him to observe the stars and the moon with his own eyes. In the 1970’s Buso’s father took him to watch the comet Bennett streak across the night sky.
“A lot of the time, you search yourself and you wonder, why do I do this? Why do I deny myself and work so many hours with so much dedication?” he said. “Now I have found the answer.”