This is the first time anyone has taken a photo of an exploding star. A real photo – bottom right:
The chances of that actually happening are virtually nil. Just considering the possibility of having your lens pointed in the right direction at the right place at the right time could make your brain hurt.
But not only was the one-in-billions shot caught, it was caught by an amateur astronomer, testing the new camera on his 16-inch telescope.
It was money well-spent by Victor Buso, of Rosario, Argentina. Until now, while before and after shots of supernova were not rare, no one had ever seen the moment a brief flash of optical light was actually spat out by a regular supernova.
Buso was testing his camera on September 20, 2016, by taking a set of images of the spiral galaxy NGC 613, about 80 million light years from Earth.
“I chose the galaxy by chance but, among those in that region of the sky, it has a beautiful form with looping clouds—bright and dark,” he told Newsweek, adding that he was aware supernovas were more likely to appear in spiral galaxies.
All up, he watched the space for an hour-and-a-half, and it was only in the last 25 minutes that the supernova flash emerged.
When he checked the before and after shots, he noticed something different:
The next night, he checked to see if the bright spot was still there, and “jumped for joy” when saw it still shining.
Buso sent the observations to UC Berkeley and observations at the Lick and Keck observatories have now confirmed Buso was the first human to have caught the flash of a pressure wave from the exploding core of a dying star hitting the gas at its surface.
“It’s like winning the cosmic lottery,” UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko said.
The research confirming the finding was published in Nature this week. You can read it here.
The supernova is now known as SN 2016gkg. Here is it in colour, shining brightly in an image from UC Santa Cruz and Las Campanas Observatory, Chile:
Buso has been a lifelong amateur astronomer since his mother encouraged him to watch the skies after Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.
In 2010, he sold some land to fund the construction of an observatory on the roof of his family home.