Can astronomers predict which stars are about to explode as supernovas?

In a recent study presented to High-energy astrophysical phenomena, a team of researchers from Japan discussed strategies for observing, and possibly predicting, the initial signatures of a Local Type II explosion and a galactic supernova (SNe). This study has the potential to help us better understand how and when supernovae can occur throughout the universe, with supernovae being the plural form of supernova (SN). But how important is it to discovering supernovae before they actually happen?

“In my view, it matters in two ways,” said Dr. Daiichi Tsuna, an astrophysicist at the University of Tokyo’s Early Universe Research Center and lead author of the study. “First, while we know that SNe supernovae are explosions that signal the death of massive stars, what happens near the end of their lives remains a mystery. In fact, SN precursors, suggested by recent observational work, cannot be predicted from the standard theory of stellar evolution. Our paper claims that we can probe this precursor in depth with future observations, which could help deepen our understanding of stellar evolution and refine current theory.Second, finding SN precursors would allow for very early warning of SN in the near future, and would help in Extended time frame available for coordinating multi-messenger observations (light, neutrinos, gravitational waves).

Tycho supernova image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN & GSFC/T. Sato et al; optical: DSS)

For the study, the researchers used the open source code CHIPS (The Complete History of Interaction Supported Supernovae) to create a theoretical model of such a discharge from the mass explosion of a red giant star. This is intriguing because the star Betelguese, which was observed in 2019 to dim in brightness, prompting discussions about the possibility of a supernova, is also a red giant star. As it turns out, Betelguise is nearing the end of its life, but a 2021 study said it’s not set to explode for another 100,000 years. But what implications could this search for Betelguese have?

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“Betelgeuse is a super red giant, which is exactly the type of star we studied in this paper,” explains Dr. Tsuna. “Thus, if Betelgeuse erupts too soon, it may display this type of precursor emission just before the SN. Since Betelgeuse is so close to us, neutrino detectors might find the emitted neutrinos as early as days before the SN. We can do multiplex astronomy Messages even before SN exploded!”

The study results indicate that the volcanic light curves are fueled by a brief pulse of shock waves lasting only a few days, followed by a much longer cooling discharge lasting for hundreds of days. For low-energy eruptions, this period is followed by a period of dark peak fueled by what is known as the bound envelope, and receding. The study concludes by saying that such collective eruptions “could serve as an early warning of a close SN neutron future, which will be important for multi-message studies of SNe nucleus collapse.”

“One thing I would like to emphasize is that we have a bright future to discover these types of rather bleak precursors,” said Dr. Tsuna. “For example, within a few years, the Rubin Observatory will conduct large-scale field survey observations with a sensitivity much deeper than current surveys. It will be sensitive enough to actually detect these types of emissions and could be a probe of the fascinating final stages of life for a massive star.”

As always, keep learning and keep researching!

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