Waiting for a cosmic blast

Excited astronomers are preparing to watch for the first time in history as a star blows itself to pieces.
The rare supernova looks set to detonate at any moment in a galaxy 440million light years from Earth.
It will die in a blaze of glory, becoming as bright as the entire galaxy of stars combined.
Stargazers all over the world are pointing their telescopes at the spot where the explosion will appear in the constellation of Aries.
In the past, astronomers have only spotted supernovae after they have exploded. But this time, uniquely, they have had early warning thanks to a mysterious blast of high-energy radiation.
The alarm signal – called a gamma ray burst – was picked up by Nasa’s Swift satellite and is the second closest ever witnessed.
Most such bursts happen in the far regions of the universe and for just a few seconds.
This one, labelled GRB 060218, startled astronomers because it was 25 times closer and lasted more than half an hour.
Now they believe that for the first time ever they have a ringside seat for one of the most dramatic events in the cosmos. It is expected to be visible in large amateur telescopes.
Space expert Robin Scagell, vice president of the UK’s Society for Popular Astronomy, said yesterday: “This is a unique opportunity and observatories everywhere are watching for the supernova.
“But it is happening far enough away for the blast to pose no danger to us here on Earth.”

© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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