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Las Cumbres Observatory Provides Vital Early Observations of a Supernova

Artist impression of radiation from an exploding star (depicted as squiggly white lines, detail at right) lighting up a relatively dense shell of gas that had been shed by the star in its last days.
CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF and Ofer Yaron, WIS.

The supernova SN 2013fs was discovered, in a galaxy about 160 million light-years from Earth, on 6 October 2013 by scientists at the Palomar Observatory. Las Cumbres Observatory provided early follow-up observations and obtained one of the first light spectra of the event. Data from LCO followed the luminosity of the supernova from the first hours through months after the explosion.

LCO scientists Andy Howell and Iair Arcavi were part of a team of researchers that used this vital early data to discover previously-unknown characteristics of the massive stars which explode as the most common type of supernova. Their work was published this week in an article in Nature Physics. The full article is available here

A multi-observatory campaign, including Las Cumbres Observatory, provided the earliest spectra that showed signatures of mass lost by the star just before it exploded. The later observations established the type of supernova as one of the most common. Together these two pieces of evidence told scientists that even the most common supernova star progenitors can have episodes where they lose a great quantity of mass just before they explode. Dr. Arcavi summarized this discovery by saying that “we have witnessed an exploding star that illuminated and then destroyed its own wind”. He went on to describe the significance, “This tells us that most massive stars signal their impending doom through violent mass ejections.  We still don’t fully understand how they do it, but this is one way we might be able to predict supernovae before they happen”.

This important discovery has received coverage in the press and you can follow the story in these articles:

Science Mag.: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/02/exploding-star-yields-its-secrets

Space.com: http://www.space.com/35689-supernova-baby-discovery-star-explosions.html

Astronomy.com: http://astronomy.com/news/2017/02/supernova-big-boom

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