23 Feb 2018

Amateur astronomer wins supernova ‘cosmic lottery’

Buso captured unique images of a star’s explosion

To say that Victor Buso was in the right place at the right time may be the biggest understatement in the history of stargazing.

By pure luck, the amateur astronomer from Rosario, Argentina, snapped the first before-and-after images ever captured of a star as it explodes in a brilliant flash of light and morphs into a supernova.

Astronomers call this pivotal moment “shock breakout”, and have dreamt for decades of witnessing such a stellar metamorphosis in real time.
Melina Bersten, a scientist at the La Plata Astrophysics Institute in Argentina and lead author of a study in Nature that describes the discovery, put the odds of stumbling across it at up to 1 in 100 million.

“It’s like winning the cosmic lottery,” quipped co-author Alex Filippenko, an astronomer at the University of California Berkeley.

In September 2016, Mr. Buso was testing a new camera on his 16-inch telescope when he noticed a bright flash from the southern constellation Sculptor on one of the images.

The galaxy hosting the star is about 80 million light years away, which is also the time it took for the light cast by the explosion to reach the earth.

Mr. Buso knew enough to contact Ms. Bersten, who instantly realised that the weekend stargazer had found a diamond in the rough.

She put out the word to an international group of astronomers, and within hours big-league telescopes around the world were trained on SN 2016gkg, the name given to the newly baptised supernova.

“Professional stargazers have long been searching for such an event,” said Mr. Filippenko, who followed up from the Lick Observatory near San Jose, California. “Observations of stars in the first moments they begin exploding provide information that cannot be directly obtained in any other way.”
Source-The Hindu

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