NASA’s Kepler space telescope may be reaching the end of its days. However, that didn’t stop it from capturing the final moments of a cocooned star. What the telescope captured though is that its explosion is different compared to any other supernova scientists have observed before.
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) conducted a study that sheds light on the rapid death of the cocooned star. The star was cocooned inside dense gas and dust. According to Space.com, when a huge star is about to die, its supernova throws that stellar material, such as gas and dust, into space. A supernova is the explosion of a dying star.
However, this case was different. The star released huge amounts of energy. But, unlike with regular supernovae, this energy slammed into the cocoon consisting of gas and dust. That made all kinetic energy convert itself into light. The death of the star lasted only a couple of days, which makes it 10 times faster than the light we see on typical supernova, according to ANU’s statement.
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“We’ve discovered yet another way that stars die and distribute material back into space,” Brad Tucker, a researcher from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said in the statement.
Nevertheless, these fast and slightly odd supernovae are rare events. They are also known as a fast-evolving luminous transient (FELT). Since these events last quite a short time, astronomers haven’t been able to learn more about FELTs, unlike the event of regular supernova.
It’s quite surprising for the Kepler space telescope to capture this, given that the telescope was initially designed to search for exoplanets living outside our solar system, and check whether some of them can harbor life as we know it today. However, the telescope captures those exoplanets as it looks at the dimming stars when the planets pass in front of them. That encouraged scientists to search for black holes, supernovae, and other explosions that are hard to see in space.
Scientists can’t use the models of traditional supernova to learn more or explain how the rapid evolution of FELTs work. Only with the Kepler space telescope can they get accurate data about sudden changes in starlight. Using that, astronomers will be able to make new, more precise models for FELT.
The findings of the researchers should provide information of “a new kind of supernova that gets a brief turbo boost in brightness from its surroundings,” the researchers wrote in their study published on March 26, in the journal Nature Astronomy.
“Using Kepler’s high-speed light-measuring capabilities, we’ve been able to see this exotic star-explosion in incredible detail,” Tucker said. “With the imminent launch of NASA’s new space telescope, TESS, we hope to find even more of these rare and violent explosions.”
The new study about the cocooned star also focuses on the different life cycles of stars and their violent explosions trying to explain how they can affect the planets that orbit its parent star, Tucker added in the statement.