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Get Ready For 'Once-in-a-Lifetime' Nova Explosion

Sometime between now and September, a small constellation about 3,000 light-years away is expected to host a spectacular cosmic display for stargazers on Earth.

Illustration of a Blaze Star
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Within the constellation is a binary system called the Blaze Star. It comprises a white dwarf, the remnant of a dead star, and an ancient red giant, a dying star. As the gravitational pull of the white dwarf - which is about the size of our planet and has a mass comparable to that of the sun - strips the remaining hydrogen from the red giant, it causes a buildup of heat and pressure.

That buildup will then trigger a thermonuclear explosion so enormous that it’s expected to be visible with the naked eye for about a week. It's hardly surprising that astronomers around the world are excitedly awaiting this explosive event and when it goes off, "a large fraction of every telescope in the world is going to be pointed at it,” Bradley Schaefer, an astrophysicist at Louisiana State University, tells Scientific American.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that will create a lot of new astronomers out there,” Rebekah Hounsell, an assistant research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement, adding: “It’ll fuel the next generation of scientists.”

Wondering when to look skyward? Worried you might miss it? Don't worry, we can all count on both pro and amateur astronomers to give us a heads up. “Citizen scientists and space enthusiasts are always looking for those strong, bright signals that identify nova events and other phenomena,” said NASA astrophysicist Elizabeth Hays. “Using social media and email, they’ll send out instant alerts, and the flag goes up.”


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