The second generation of the Kepler Space Telescope called K2 has captured for the first time the shockwave of a supernova explosion. Known as a shock breakout, this flash of energy precedes a supernova and last only about 20 minutes, so catching this is an investigative milestone for astronomers.
An international team of scientists analyzed light captured by Kepler every 30 minutes over a three-year period from 500 distant galaxies searching some 50 trillion stars. They were hunting for signs of massive stellar death explosions which we all know as supernovae.
This all would have happened before Kepler second reaction wheel failed in 2013 and so, it comes from the original data. In 2011 tow massive red supergiant stars exploded while that came into Kepler’s view. The first one, named KSN 2011a, is nearly three hundred times the size of our Sun and located about 700 million light years from Earth. The second, named KSN 2011d, is roughly five hundred times the size of our Sun and around 1.2 billion light years away from us — to put their size in perspective, Earth’s orbit around our Sun would fit comfortably within these stars.
Astronomers say that in order to see something that happened on the time scale of minutes like a shock breakout you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky.
You don’t know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler’s vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began.
said Peter Garnavich ~ lead author of the study which has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
So the fact that Kepler was staring continuously a one spot in the sky was instrumental in making this discovery, you really couldn’t have been predicted or anticipated, astronomers need to be looking at the right place at the right time to get it.
The research came from something called the Kepler Extragalactic Survey or kegs, something very fun sounding. The team is nearly finished mining data from Kepler’s primary mission which ended in 2013 with the failure of the reaction wheels that help keep the spacecraft steady. Now, with the reboot of the Kepler spacecraft as K2, the team is now combing through more data hunting for supernova events in even more galaxies which are far, far away.
Why is it so important to understand this phenomenon?
Supernovas teach us about the destiny of our universe, because they are incredibly large objects that we can see over great distances,
Dr. Steve Howell.
If we don’t understand how bright they are, and what happens to them, then we are using them, but we are using them incorrectly.