The SN 2020fqv supernova is located in the two interacting butterfly galaxies, 60 million light years from Earth. It was first spotted in April 2020 by the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory when the star was in the early stages of a supernova, and scientists at Hubble quickly decided to look into it as well. .
“We were talking about supernova work like we were crime scene investigators, where we showed up after the fact and tried to figure out what had happened to that star,” explained team leader Ryan Foley of the University of California at Santa Cruz, in a statement. “It’s a different situation because we really know what’s going on and we actually see death in real time.”
Hubble was able to see the matter around the star, called circumstellar matter, just hours after the appearance of the supernova. This is an incredibly rare opportunity to study what happened to the star in its final days, as this material is only visible to telescopes for a very short time.
In addition to data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which was also observing the region, scientists were able to get a sense of what happened to the star in its final years before it exploded.
“Now we have this whole story about what happened to the star in the years before her death, around the time of death, and then the day after that,” Foley said. “It really is the most detailed view of stars like this in their final moments and how they explode.”
Understanding this particular star could help us understand other stars that could be on the verge of becoming a supernova, such as our nearby star Betelgeuse which some people believed to be on the verge of becoming a supernova in 2019 (although in this case, the star’s strange behavior turned out to be due to a cloud of dust rather than an impending explosion).
“It could be a warning system,” Foley said. “So if you see a star start to shake a bit, start to act, then maybe we should pay more attention and really try to figure out what’s going on there before it explodes. and as we find more and more of these supernovas with this kind of great data set, we will be able to better understand what is happening in the last few years of a star’s life.