Astronomers have seen the aftermath of spectacular stellar explosions known as supernovae before, but until now no one has witnessed a star dying in real time. While looking at another object in the spiral galaxy NGC 2770, using NASA’s orbiting Swift telescope, Carnegie-Princeton fellows* Alicia Soderberg and Edo Berger detected an extremely luminous blast of X-rays released by a supernova explosion.
They alerted 8 other orbiting and on-ground telescopes to turn their eyes on this first-of-its-kind event.
“We were in the right place, at the right time, with the right telescope on January 9th and witnessed history,” remarked Soderberg. “We were looking at another, older supernova in the galaxy, when the one now known as SN 2008D went off. We would have missed it if it weren’t for Swift’s real-time capabilities, wide field of view, and numerous instruments.”