Astronomers see a new type of massive cosmic explosion

The Crab Nebula, located 6,500 light-years from Earth, is a remnant of a cosmic mega-bang that was seen for 23 days in 1054.Photo by NASA, ESA and Alison Lull / Jeff

The eruption occurred 31 million years ago, long before humans existed, while the ancestors of camels and horses roamed here on Earth. All the while, light from the explosion in NGC 2146 streaked here, before astronomers watched the rays land on their telescopes in 2018.

After the analysis, it soon became clear that this wasn’t a daily cosmic explosion, astronomers wrote on Monday in the trade magazine natural astronomy. “We wondered what this strange thing was,” co-author Daiichi Hiramatsu said in a statement. “Once we studied the properties, it turned out that everything could be explained by the electron capture scenario.”

“Electron Capture Scenario” – It’s a sampling of hard-to-crack terms to read if you don’t know any better. But behind the term, it hides a kind of long-awaited supernova, in which atoms in stars capture electrons so that the star becomes unstable and explodes.


It has been in physics books for forty years, but no one has ever seen such an explosion in the sky. That is, some astronomers suspect that our ancestors actually saw one at the birth of a cosmic explosion in the Crab Nebula, the enchanting nebula that you can see in the night sky with a small telescope.

The afterglow of this explosion was visible during the day for 23 days, according to historical records from China in 1054. At night, it took about two years for this phenomenon to disappear in the sky. As early as 1982, astronomers suggested That this explosion occurred according to the electron capture scenario. Now that such an explosion had already been observed, they were reinforced by this thought.

I’m so glad someone finally saw an electron capture a supernova. “My colleagues and I proposed a connection to the Crab Nebula 40 years ago,” study co-author Kenichi Nomoto (University of Tokyo) said in a statement.

Six traits

Of the six expected properties that electron-trapping supernovae should have, according to the theory, SN 2018zd possesses them all, the authors wrote. Astronomer Lex Kabir (University of Amsterdam) described this result as “very important”. Especially when you consider that there are countless stars that have to explode via this mechanism. Any star with a mass more than eight to ten times the mass of the Sun undergoes this process. Add to that, that’s quite a lot.

Kaper also praises observational campaigns in which astronomers take a series of images of cosmic locations with supernova potential. “Then, when there’s an explosion somewhere, you can also see an image from before the explosion,” he explains. In this way, the researchers also tracked the gustatory star in the SN 2018zd supernova. This gives you more knowledge about how these types of processes occur physically.

The three types of supernovae.

So far, astronomers have known – regardless of subspecies – two ways stars die with a powerful cosmic blow.

Bee Type 1 A A small star swallows matter from a neighboring star with its own gravity, as if slowly opening its licorice lace. This continues until the young star eats so much that it becomes unstable and explodes.

Supernova explosion type 2 It begins when nuclear fusion stops in a massive star. Then, the external pressure of the radiation could no longer balance the gravitational pull of the stars’ outer layers. As if someone kicked their legs under a cosmic chair, everything then collapses with a massive explosion as a result.

In theory, until recently elektronvangsenario The stability of the star is disrupted in another way. The atoms in the star’s core (made up of oxygen, neon and magnesium) suddenly begin to pick up electrons under the pressure of the outer layers. This upsets the unstable balance in the core, after which the star collapses and explodes.

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