Explosive Timelapse From Hubble Shows Last Dramatic Gasp of Dying Star

Hubble captured a timelapse image of a dying white dwarf star going supernova in a galaxy far away.
Brad Bergan

An incredibly bright explosion of light was seen in January 2018 at the outskirts of a galaxy called NGC 2525, 70 million light-years away — and in February of 2018, the Hubble Space Telescope captured the cosmic flash with its Wide Field Camera 3, according to a press release on NASA's official website.

And instead of just another picture, we got a time-lapse — which was shared on Hubble's ESA YouTube channel (featured below).


Hubble caught explosive timelapse video of supernova

Hubble continued to take images of the supernova's progression until February 2019, when it had faded below visible detection. Unfortunately, the renowned space telescope was too late to catch the initial explosion — reaching a peak brightness of roughly 5 billion times that of the Sun — but it was still shining maddeningly bright when Hubble looked in its direction.

"No Earthly fireworks display can compete with this supernova, captured in its fading glory by the Hubble," said Adam Riess, an astrophysicist of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, Science Alert reports.

Dying star classified as Type Ia supernova

The supernova event — named SN 2018gv — is one of the key tools cosmologists and astrophysicists use to track the rate of expansion of the universe.

Classified as a Type Ia supernova, this event happens when a white dwarf star in a binary pair has sucked too much matter from its partner and becomes unstable — exploding in a vast supernova.

The white dwarf's critical mass — called the Chandrasekhar mass — lies within a known range and thus has a predictable brightness, according to Science Alert.

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Hubble's supernova tracking clocks expansion of universe

Type Ia supernovae vary in peak brightness, but it's tied to how fast the supernova fades — which means observing this process lets scientists calculate the peak brightness with exacting precision.

This is why supernovae are an extremely valuable resource for gauging cosmic distances. If scientists know how inherently bright something is, they can calculate its distance — and once the distance is known, we have a powerful tool for studying the properties of the surrounding environment in space.

The Hubble Space Telescope has remained in operation for 30 years — advancing astrophysicists' dream of reducing uncertainty around Type Ia supernovae distance measurements, in addition to calculating the rate of the universe's expansion. When the James Webb Space Telescope launches, it will see Type Ia supernovae much farther away, taking science to new reaches of deep space.

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