April 27, 2022
In 2014, astronomers saw a sudden bright spot in the sky—a sure sign that a star had exploded out in space.
When an exploding star is first detected, astronomers around the world begin to follow it with telescopes as the light it gives off changes rapidly over time. By watching how it evolves, using telescopes that can see visible light and also X-rays, radio waves, and infrared light, scientists can deduce the physical characteristics of the system.
By doing this many times, scientists have grouped these exploding stars into categories. 2014C, as this particular event was named, looked like what’s called a Type Ib supernova. They are what happen when the largest known stars in the universe die.
In fact, scientists think 2014C was probably originally not one but two stars orbiting each other, one bigger than the other. The more massive star evolved more quickly, expanded, and its outer layer of hydrogen got sucked away. When it eventually ran out of fuel, its core collapsed, triggering a gigantic explosion.
However, observations in the first 500 days after the explosion had shown that it was emitting more X-rays over time, which was unusual and seen only in a small number of supernovae. “It suggested that the shockwave was interacting with dense material,” said Vikram Dwarkadas, University of Chicago research professor of astronomy and astrophysics.