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Supernova Sighting

June 30, 2008

Scientists have witnessed the beginning of a supernova, or exploding star, for the first time.


The first glimpse of a new supernova. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A supernova, or exploding star, burns 100 million times more brightly than our Sun. But because this visible light takes days to peak, no one had ever seen a supernova at its birth. That is, until this year, when Princeton University postdoctoral fellow Alicia Soderberg and her colleagues were watching satellite images of non-visible light in a galaxy far, far, away.

ALICIA SODERBERG (Princeton University):
We saw the star in the act of exploding. And that was accompanied by a giant pulse of X rays. And we now know that the X rays is where most of the energy actually comes out.

She says seeing it was incredibly lucky, since a typical galaxy has only one supernova per century. Scientists can now use the findings to look for other early-stage supernovae – which could shed light on how new stars and planets eventually form from the resulting debris. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.