August 30, 2006
X-Ray Burst Leads Scientists to See Supernova in Action
By David Biello
A star in a galaxy about 440 million light-years away released in a few seconds more energy than the sun will over the course of its entire lifetime, according to observations made on February 18. A high-energy jet of x-rays shot out from the doomed star's core and was captured by the Burst Alert Telescope on NASA's Swift satellite. The satellite relayed the information to astronomers on the ground, and within days a wide array of telescopes turned to the exploding object.
Meanwhile the other telescopes on Swift continued to observe the unusually long-lived burst; it lasted more than 30 minutes compared with other examples that flared up for only milliseconds. As the x-rays faded away, the star itself exploded in a spectacular supernova -- shown in the before (l) and after (r) images above -- the first such supernova to be observed from start to finish.
This supernova was half as bright as those typically preceded by such a burst, despite its emanating from a star 20 times as massive as the sun
Usually these events are not detected until after the supernova has brightened substantially. On this occasion, they were able to study the remarkable event in all its glory from the very beginning.



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