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Get Ready to Witness a Rare Nova Explosion

At some point during the next several months, a distant, dead star will rapidly grow brighter in a powerful explosion, making it visible from Earth for a short period of time. To observers on the ground, it will look like a new star.


The dead star - which is currently not bright enough to appear in the sky - is one of a pair that orbit each other in a binary system called T Coronae Borealis. Known as a white dwarf, this leftover stellar core is snatching material from its neighbouring red giant. When it gathers enough, roughly every 80 years or so, the white dwarf releases energy in a bright outburst, says NASA.


An artist's rendering of a red giant star and white dwarf star circle each other
In an artist's rendering, a red giant star and white dwarf star circle each other | NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Astronomers around the world are excitedly awaiting this once in a lifetime 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.


This particular dead star is located 3,000 light-years from Earth. The astronomer John Birmingham observed its outburst from western Ireland two explosions ago, in 1866, according to Nicole Mortillaro of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Then, it flared up again in 1946. There’s also evidence that it was seen in 1787 and 1217, says the New York Times.


Such an event is called a nova - a rapid increase in the brightness of a white dwarf that reignites after years of slumber. These outbursts are different than supernovae, which are much more dramatic. Supernovae occur when a dying star erupts in a release of energy that can briefly outshine galaxies.


You should be able to see this impending explosion with the naked eye for several days and with binoculars for just over a week, according to NASA.

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