Shockwaves (aka a “shock breakout”) like this only last for 20 minutes, so it was really exciting for astronomers to capture the moment, which they recorded as a sudden flare of optical light from a distant star.
The shock breakout is the initial flash of brightness from the explosion that precedes the big event, as the star gets brighter and bigger over about two weeks. The star modeled in the animation above is known as KSN 2011d, a red giant 500 times larger than our sun, and 1.2 billion light years away. For comparison, the closest star system to our own solar system is about 4.2 light years away.
Though explosions of distant, massive stars might seem far removed from life on Earth, the fact is that there is a connection.
“All heavy elements in the universe come from supernova explosions. For example, all the silver, nickel, and copper in the earth and even in our bodies came from the explosive death throes of stars,” Steve Howell, a project scientist on NASA’s Kepler mission said in a statement. “Life exists because of supernovae.”