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What is it?
SN 2016bkv is the explosive death of a massive star, known as a supernova. Supernovae are among the most energetic events in the Universe, bright enough to briefly outshine an entire galaxy of billions of stars. SN 2016bkv is specifically a Type II supernova, meaning it is likely the explosion of a red supergiant star.
How did it occur?
Type II supernovae occur when a star runs out of nuclear fuel. The energy output of the core decreases, allowing the star’s material to flow into the core until it grows so massive it can no longer endure its own gravitational force. The collapse of the core results in the violent explosion of a supernova.
Where is it?
The explosion happened about 47 million light years away in the nearby spiral galaxy NGC 3184, which has hosted four previous supernovae (SNe 1921B, 1921C, 1937F, and 1999gi). It was discovered on March 21, 2016, by Koichi Itagaki, an amateur astronomer in Yamagata, Japan, about a day after it exploded. It was classified by the supernova group at Las Cumbres Observatory two days later.
What is this event exciting?
Supernova are very important because the remains of the shattered star are hurled into space and goes on to form new stars, planets and moons — in fact, we’re all made of supernova debris.
SN 2016bkv is special for two additional reasons:
The material ejected during the explosion is moving outward relatively slowly, at only 4 million kilometers per hour (2 million miles per hour).
The supernova ran into a thin shell of material that surrounded the star before the explosion, an event that astronomers have only started to notice in the past few years.
What can we learn?
Supernovae burn for only a short period of time, SN 2016bkv is now slowly fading away after about a year. But getting images at this point in its evolution will help us determine how much radioactive nickel was produced in the explosion.
When the star explodes, it shoots elements and debris into space. Many of the elements we find here on Earth are made in the core of stars. These elements travel on to form new stars, planets and everything else in the universe. The amount of radioactive nickel can tell us the mass of the star before it exploded.