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On February 24th, 1987, two astronomers named Oscar Dhalde and Ian Shelton were witnessed to one of the most incredible sights in modern astronomy from the vantage point of a Chilean mountain-top.
Initially, the two experts believed that they were witnessed the birth of a new star. However, they quickly came to realize that they were actually watching the reverse – the dramatic and violent death of a blue supergiant. To celebrate the anniversary of the discovery, NASA has pieced together the incredible story and released a new animation to show exactly what happened.
NASA celebrates unique sighting of the death of a star
The moment the astronomers witnessed was when the blue supergiant, which is referred to as Sanduleak-69° 202, began to lose power. Most astronomers think that the star’s core began to run low on high-energy fuel at this point and this caused it to collapse underneath the power of its gravitational force. This triggered an immense radioactive blast that resounded with the power of approximately 100 million suns, creating a vast supernova.
Not only was the supernova the brightest that had been viewed for hundreds of years but it was also the first time that astronomers had managed to compile detailed data on its activity. This meant that this event presented experts with a unique opportunity “to study the phases before, during and after the death of a star, ” say the NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory team.
The compiled data has certainly allowed organizations such as NASA to expand their knowledge of supernovas exponentially. From the data, they have deduced that supernovas form the new elements required for the evolution of life and how the forces of space distribute these new elements to far off places throughout the universe.
The Hubble Space Telescope is still keeping track of the progress of the supernova and its incredibly powerful traveling shockwave. Almost thirty years after human beings first witnessed the explosive beginnings of the supernova, it is still believed that the shockwave is making its way through the universe leaving a wave of gas and dust in its wake.