The death of a star is undoubtedly beautiful.
Astronomers realized this after observing, for the first time, the early flash of an exploding star’s shockwave, called “shock breakout“. The Kepler space telescope followed the star KSN 2011d, located 1.2 billion light-years away, measuring the light coming from 500 galaxies for 3 straight years. At one point they registered the phenomenon but since there’s no recording of the event, NASA provided an animation that shows what Kepler witnessed then.
The above clip explains how a red supergiant star, 500 times bigger than our Sun, reaches implosion, after it can not longer sustain nuclear fusion. Then, the shockwave rises to the star’s layers, breaking the surface in the form of multiple plasma jets. It takes 20 minutes for the implosion to reach full “strength” and tear apart the star.
The supernova explosion is beautiful in its terrifying magnitude but that’s not the only reason astronomers get excited when it happens. In that very moment, dozen of elements spread all across the Universe, with some even reaching Earth: “All the silver, nickel, and copper in the Earth and even in our bodies came from the explosive death throes of stars”, says Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA’s Kepler mission.