A star in a distant galaxy explodes as a supernova: while observing a galaxy known as UGC 9379 (left; image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey; SDSS) located about 360 million light years away from Earth, the team discovered a new source of bright blue light (right, marked with an arrow; image from the 60-inch robotic telescope at Palomar Observatory). This very hot, young supernova marked the explosive death of a massive star in that distant galaxy. A detailed study of the spectrum (the distribution of colors composing the light from the supernova) using a technique called "flash spectroscopy" revealed the signature of a wind blown by the aging star just prior to its terminal explosion, and allowed scientists to determine what elements were abundant on the surface of the dying star as it was about to explode as a supernova, providing important information about how massive stars evolve just prior to their death, and the origin of crucial elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.
Credit: Avishay Gal-Yam, Weizmann Institute of Science
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