Amateur astronomer looks at a distant star just as it explodes

Amateur astronomer, Victor Buso, struck lucky in September 2016 when he decided to test out a new camera attached to his 16 inch telescope.

Keen to make sure his new toy was working, he took a few pictures and checked the output. He noticed something that should not have been there. On the edge of the snappily named NGC 613 galaxy there was a pinpoint of light which grew in subsequent images.

Supernova image

Images taken by Víctor Buso over a period of about an hour showed the supernova light suddenly appearing and brightening rapidly.

Buso took his discovery to astronomer Melina Bersten at the Instituto de Astrofísica de La Plata in Argentina, who immediately contacted an international group of astronomers to survey the celestial object.

Structural and composition information captured in the very first moments of a star’s explosion cannot be obtained in any other way, and scientists were quick to train the Shane 3-meter telescope at the University of California’s Lick Observatory near San Jose, California, and the twin 10-meter telescopes of the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, onto the expanding supernova.

UC Berkley astronomer, Alex Filippenko, and his excited colleagues were able to obtain spectra and derive the composition of the star as well as the nature of the explosion.

The team estimate the star had a mass likely 20 times that of the sun, although had shrunk to ‘only’ 5 times before meeting a violent end.

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