60-Second Space

Following Flare-Ups, Star Finally Explodes

After a few false alarms, the star SN 2009ip appears to have gone supernova at last. John Matson reports

As Dr. Soran, the bad guy in the movie Star Trek: Generations, found out, blowing up a star sometimes takes a few tries.

Such was also the case for an object called SN 2009ip. It’s a star in a galaxy about 80 million light-years away. Or, rather, it was a star.

It first drew attention in 2009, when it flared up brightly in an apparent supernova—a star exploding at the end of its life. But it was soon unmasked as a supernova impostor—a nonfatal outburst from a massive star that only looks like a full-blown supernova.

Following two subsequent flare-ups, astronomers have now concluded that SN 2009ip has gone supernova at last. During a 2012 outburst, the star brightened much more than usual, becoming a billion times as luminous as the sun. And spectroscopic observations revealed that gas was racing outward at roughly 8,000 kilometers per second. Speeds that high indicate a cataclysmic explosion triggered by the collapse of the star’s core. The research will appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. [Jon C. Mauerhan et al., The Unprecedented 2012 Outburst of SN 2009ip: A Luminous Blue Variable Becomes a True Supernova]

Astronomers now have the rare opportunity to study details of a supernova—both before and after.

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Starting Thanksgiving

Enter code: HOLIDAY 2015
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >


Email this Article