Chance of detecting a Milky Way supernova said a 'sure thing'

Oct. 31, 2013 at 5:09 PM
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COLUMBUS, Ohio, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Astronomers at Ohio State University predict sometime during the next 50 years a supernova occurring in our home Milky Way galaxy will be detectable from Earth.

Advances in cameras and new strategies for observation make it almost 100 percent certain such a cosmic event will be detectable from Earth -- at least in the form of infrared radiation, they said.

Unfortunately, they noted, the odds of a shining stellar spectacle being visible in the nighttime sky to the naked eye drop considerably -- to about 20 percent.

But astronomers will have the advantage of having high-powered infrared cameras to point at the sky at a moment's notice, providing a solid chance of doing something for the first time: detecting a supernova fast enough to witness what happens at the very beginning of a star's demise.

"We see all these stars go supernova in other galaxies, and we don't fully understand how it happens," astronomy Professor Christopher Kochanek said. "We think we know, we say we know, but that's not actually 100 percent true."

A massive star becomes a supernova when it's used up all its nuclear fuel and its core collapses, just before it explodes violently and throws off most of its matter into space.

That's the event astronomers hope to catch at the moment it begins, close enough to us to reveal clues to the process.

"Today, technologies have advanced to the point that we can learn enormously more about supernovae if we can catch the next one in our galaxy and study it with all our available tools," Kochanek said.

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