Scientists watched a star explode in real time for the first time ever

Astronomers have watched a giant star blow up in a fiery supernova for the first time ever — and the spectacle was even more explosive than the researchers anticipated. According to a new research published Jan. 6 in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists began observing the doomed star — a red supergiant called SN 2020tlf and located approximately 120 million light-years from Earth — more than 100 days before its last, cataclysmic collapse. During that time, the researchers witnessed the star erupt with dazzling bursts of light as massive globs of gas exploded from its surface. These pre-supernova fireworks surprised the researchers because earlier observations of red supergiants on the verge of exploding showed no signs of violent emissions, they said. "This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die," lead study author Wynn Jacobson-Gal├ín, a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley said in a statement. "For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode!" In terms of volume, red supergiants are the biggest stars in the cosmos, measuring hundreds or even thousands of times the radius of the sun. (Despite their bulk, red supergiants are not the brightest or most massive stars in the universe.) These huge stars, like our sun, generate energy by nuclear fusion of atoms in their cores. Red supergiants, on the other hand, can create considerably heavier elements than the hydrogen and helium that our sun burns. As supergiants burn increasingly heavy elements, their cores heat up and become more compressed. These stars eventually run out of energy by the time they begin fusing iron and nickel, their cores collapse, and they eject their gassy outer atmospheres into space in a catastrophic type II supernova explosion.