Friday, January 10, 2014

Star Set To Explode, May Happen In Our Lifetime

Floating at the center of this new Hubble image is a lidless purple eye, staring back at us through space. This ethereal object, known officially as [SBW2007] 1 but sometimes nicknamed SBW1, is a nebula with a giant star at its center. The star was originally twenty times more massive than our sun, and is now encased in a swirling ring of purple gas, the remains of the distant era when it cast off its outer layers via violent pulsations and winds.

orange ovoid shell around a bright white star
Credit: ESA/NASA, acknowledgement: Nick Rose.

But the star is not just any star; scientists say that it is destined to go supernova. Twenty-six years ago, another star with striking similarities went supernova — SN 1987A. Early Hubble images of SN 1987A show eerie similarities to SBW1. Both stars had identical rings of the same size and age, which were travelling at similar speeds; both were located in similar HII regions; and they had the same brightness. In this way SBW1 is a snapshot of SN1987a's appearance before it exploded, and unsurprisingly, astronomers love studying them together.

At a distance of more than 20 000 light-years it will be safe to watch when the supernova goes off. If we are very lucky it may happen in our own lifetimes.

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