NASA Details How Stargazers Can Witness A Once-In-A-Lifetime Cosmic Explosion

hero nasa nova explosion
With summer coming in hot, it is time for cookouts, camping trips, and of course, fireworks. But this summer, NASA says to be on the lookout for a different type of fireworks, a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to see the results of a nova explosion in the night sky.

T Coronae Borealis, also known as the “Blaze Star,” is a binary system in the Northern Crown about 3,000 light-years from Earth. The Blaze Star comprises a white dwarf, an Earth-sized remnant of a dead star with a mass comparable to Earth’s Sun, and an ancient red giant that is being slowly stripped of hydrogen by the ongoing gravitational pull of its tenacious neighbor. As the hydrogen from the red giant accretes to the surface of the white dwarf, it causes a buildup of pressure and heat. Once the pressure gets too much, it sets off a thermonuclear explosion large enough to rid itself of the accreted material, according to NASA.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that will create a lot of new astronomers out there, giving young people a cosmic event they can observe for themselves, ask their own questions, and collect their own data,” remarked Dr. Rebekah Hounsell, an assistant research scientist specializing in nova events at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’ll fuel the next generation of scientists.”

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NASA warns not to confuse a nova with a supernova, however. A supernova is a final explosion that destroys some dying stars. In a nova event, the dwarf star remains intact, sending the material flying through space in a spectacular flash. This cycle can repeat itself repeatedly over a period of tens or thousands of years.

“There are a few recurrent novae with very short cycles, but typically, we don’t often see a repeated outburst in a human lifetime, and rarely one so relatively close to our own system,” explained Hounsell. “It’s incredibly exciting to have this front-row seat.”

According to NASA, the first recorded sighting of the T Coronae Borealis nova was over 800 years ago, in 1217. A man named Burchard, abbot of Ursberg, Germany, made note of his observance of a “faint star that for a time shone with great light.” It was last recorded as being seen in 1946. Because the nova reoccurs on average every 80 years or so, some researchers believe the next nova event could occur by September 2024.

So, what should one look for in the night sky? Stargazers should keep track of the Northern Crown, a horseshoe-shaped curve of stars west of the Hercules constellation. NASA remarked it can be found by locating the two brightest stars in the Northern Hemisphere, Arcturus and Vega, and then tracking a straight line from one to the other, which will lead to Hercules and Corona Borealis.

While the nova blast will appear as an extremely bright star in the night sky, it will be brief. The event will last less than a week, so hopeful watchers will need to keep close track of when it occurs. Dr. Elizabeth Hays, chief of the Astrophysics Laboratory at NASA Goddard, suggests following accounts of fellow citizen scientists and space enthusiasts on social media to keep track of when the event happens. And of course, keep up with HotHardware as we will keep an eye out for the cosmic event as well.
Tags:  space, NASA, nova, astronomy, star