Ryan Foley talks about pre-supernova burst

On Oct. 11, 2006, astronomers witnessed a star blowing itself to smithereens. It was labeled Supernova (SN) 2006jc. This same star had undergone a mysterious outburst two years earlier.

In October of 2004, amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki noticed a bright flash in a galaxy some 77 million light-years away. He assumed it was an exploding star.

But instead, the star had what astronomers call an outburst – a star’s way of blowing off steam – or, in this case, helium gas in the star’s outer layers. Two years later, in 2006, this star really did explode, this time as a supernova that destroyed the star completely.

Scientists had until then never seen a star have an outburst and then become a supernova so quickly. That’s according to research led by Ryan Foley, an astronomer at U.C. Berkeley. He studied the supernova whose official designation was SN 2006jc.

Ryan Foley: And the fact that this outburst happened two years before the supernova event, means that whatever instabilities were going on prior to when it was losing all of its hydrogen, continued into this other stage, which we just did not expect. So in that sense, it’s something that we just didn’t understand about how stars evolved, in particular how massive stars die.

Thanks today to Research Corporation, a foundation for the advancement of science.

Our thanks to:
Ryan Foley
University of California, Berkeley

June 1, 2007

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