NASA warns about what will happen this summer: «It’s a unique event.»

NASA and astronomers around the world are anticipating the rare explosion of a nova.

This summer’s night sky will be adorned by an exceptional astronomical phenomenon when a recurrent nova, known as T Coronae Borealis (T CrB) or «Blaze Star,» becomes visible from Earth without the need for telescopes. This event is expected to occur in September 2024.

T CrB is a binary system located in the constellation Corona Borealis, about 3,000 light-years from our planet. The system comprises a white dwarf, a remnant the size of Earth of a dead star with a mass comparable to our Sun, and an old red giant that is slowly being stripped of hydrogen by the relentless gravitational pull of its hungry neighbor. Its cycle of thermonuclear explosions occurs approximately every 80 years. The last time this phenomenon was observed from Earth was in 1946, and current patterns suggest we are on the brink of witnessing a new eruption.

Dr. Rebekah Hounsell, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, highlights the importance of this event, not only for the scientific community but also for inspiring new generations of astronomers. According to Hounsell, the opportunity to directly observe a cosmic event of this magnitude has the potential to motivate both young people and adults to get involved in space science.

The process behind the nova involves the accumulation of hydrogen from the red giant on the surface of the white dwarf, eventually triggering a thermonuclear explosion. Unlike a supernova, which marks the catastrophic end of a star, a nova like T CrB does not destroy the white dwarf but expels the accumulated material in a dazzling flash, allowing the cycle to repeat.

How to observe this phenomenon?

To locate Corona Borealis in the night sky, amateur astronomers should look for the horseshoe-shaped curve of stars west of the constellation Hercules after sunset during the summer months. The position of T CrB is between the two brightest stars of the northern hemisphere, Arcturus and Vega.

Observing T CrB will not be an exception, with ground-based telescopes and space missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory ready to capture data across the spectrum of visible and non-visible light.

This event offers not only a visual spectacle but also a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of recurrent stellar explosions and the stellar processes that fuel them. With tools like the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) and NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, researchers hope to gain an unprecedented view of the life cycles of binary systems and the powerful stellar processes that still drive them.

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