Supernova Shockwave Recorded for the First Time

NASA's Kepler space telescope has captured the spectacular flash of a supernova shockwave, or "shock breakout," exploding 1.2 billion light-years from Earth. The stellar event, which occurs when a dying star collapses and bursts into a brilliant supernova, has never before been captured in visible light until now, Gizmodo reports.

The Kepler probe was deployed by NASA in 2009 to seek out planets beyond our solar system. Today the telescope is also used to study star clusters and supernovae, and in 2011 it recorded the fiery deaths of two colossal red supergiants. Only the larger of the two, a star about 500 times the size of our Sun, displayed a shock breakout that was detected in the Kepler recordings.

According to a study in Astrophysical Journal, a science team led by University of Notre Dame astrophysicist Peter Garnavich came across the event when sifting through mountains of data captured by the telescope from 500 different galaxies over the course of three years. They were on the lookout for evidence of supernovae, which are created when a giant star runs out of the fuel necessary to sustain itself, collapses under its own gravitational pull, and then explodes into a brilliant supernova, which can sometimes grow bright enough to outshine whole galaxies. Before a supernova starts to expand, a super-bright flash is created as the shockwave of the collapsing core breaks past the star's surface. You can see what this process looks like in the animation above.

Understanding how supernovae form is vital to understanding the universe. Heavy elements like silver, nickel, and copper are all derived from such explosions, and according to Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA's Kepler mission, life as we know it wouldn't exist without them.

Header/banner images courtesy of NASA via YouTube

[h/t Gizmodo]

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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