Supernova Alert! Astronomers have just found a way to predict the deaths of exploding stars

bright colorful bubble against starry background

Wouldn’t it be nice to know when a giant star is about to die in a cataclysmic supernova explosion? A team of astronomers has done it. If you see a red giant star surrounded by a thick layer of material, be careful: the star is likely to explode within a few years.

As a massive star approaches the end of its life, it goes through several violent phases. Deep in the star’s core, it goes from fusing hydrogen to fusing heavier elements, starting with helium and moving through carbon, oxygen, magnesium, and silicon. At the end of the chain, the star ends up forming iron in its core. Since iron absorbs energy rather than releasing it, this spells the end of the star, and in less than a dozen minutes it spins up in a fantastic explosion called supernova.

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