Blast From The Past

A supernova is the death blast of a giant star, far larger than our Sun.  Massive stars go out with a bang, outshining entire galaxies, allowing us to see them across the universe.  A supernova observed in 2013 occurred in a distant galaxy and took over 30 Million years to reach Earth, where the timing was perfect for us to observe and study it.  And now that it’s been studied, the explosion was truly the death of a giant.

This image of Supernova 2013ej shows the star at peak explosion. Credit: Govinda Dhungana, SMU

The supernova, named 2013 ej, was discovered in June 2013 in the galaxy M74 in the constellation Pisces.  It was the closest supernova observed in the last few years, giving astronomers a chance to study it in greater detail than a typical distant supernova.  After it was discovered, observations continued for 450 days to help astronomers understand the short term evolution of the explosion and ejecta.

Southern Methodist University in Dallas, USA led the study, and gave some context for just how incredible the explosion was.  The massive star was 15 times as heavy as our Sun and 200x as wide.  When it exploded, the blast ejected material at a speed of 10,000 kilometers per second (36 million Km/h) into space.

Understanding the mechanisms of how supernovae explode are among the most intense areas of research in astrophysics today.  They are incredibly valuable as a method for determining distances to objects in the universe, acting as a standard candle that is bright enough to observe over incredible distances.


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