Chilean scientists using Blanco telescope discover crucial event right before the death of a star

(3 September 2018)

Artistic Impression
Red supergiant star surrounded by a veil of circumstellar material before explosion as suggested by early time observations of type II supernova (Credit: NAOJ).

Research will change what we know about Supernova explosions.

Scientists detected a brightness prior to the shock breakout that was not predicted in models.

A new paper in the journal Nature Astronomy, The delay of shock breakout due to circumstellar material evident in most Type II Supernovae, written by a group of researchers from the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) and the Department of Astronomy of the University of Chile, Millennium Institute of Astrophysics (MAS) and international institutions, sheds new light on supernova explosions.
The group discovered that supernovae generated from red supergiants, stars of great size in advanced stages of their lives, present a flash before the main explosion not predicted by current models. The discovery was made by scanning the sky using DECam for 14 nights at the 4-m Victor Blanco Telescope located at the National Science Foundation’s Cerro Tololo - part of the AURA Observatory in Chile. The observations will change what is known about supernova explosions and the last stages of stellar evolution.

The Director of Cerro Tololo, Dr. Steve Heathcote commented, “This result shows how in the era of Big Data, the use of advanced computing techniques -a field that in Chile has been established with global capabilities in CMM- to filter massive data sets delivered by modern instruments such as DECam, allow scientific discoveries that would have been impossible in the past. The techniques developed at CMM will be critical tools to handle the large amount of data that will come from LSST when it starts operations in Chile in 2023.

About AURA Observatory in Chile and Cerro Tololo

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is an international consortium of universities and non-profit institutions that operate world-class astronomy facilities. In Chile, it administers and operates the telescopes of Cerro Tololo, Gemini South, SOAR and the future LSST under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation of the United States.

About DECam, (Camera of Dark Energy)

DECam is a 570 megapixel camera, one of the most powerful that exists, capable of digitally capturing the light of more than 100,000 galaxies up to a distance of 8 billion light years in each exposure. The camera was built by the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration, an international partnership with Fermilab (USA) as the lead institution, and for which the majority of funding was provided by the USA Department of Energy.  DECam is installed in Chile in the 4-m Victor Blanco Telescope of Cerro Tololo, part of the AURA Observatory in Chile, and whose financing comes from the National Science Foundation of the United States.

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The Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) is a complex of astronomical telescopes and instruments located at 30.169 S, 70.804 W, approximately 80 km to the East of La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 2200 meters.  CTIO headquarters are located in La Serena, Chile, about 300 miles north of Santiago.

The CTIO complex is part of the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), along with the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Tucson, Arizona.  NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF).  CTIO, as part of the AURA Observatory in Chile, operates in Chile under Chilean law, through an Agreement with the University of Chile and with the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile.

The principal telescopes on site are the 4-m Victor M. Blanco Telescope and the 4.1-m Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope.  One of the two 8-m telescopes comprising the Gemini Observatory is co-located with CTIO on AURA property in Chile, together with more than 10 other telescopes and astronomical projects.