Get ready to witness a celestial explosion that happens once every 80 years

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Every 80 years the skies give us a rare gift: a star explosion called a nova that outshines all other cosmic wonders. This celestial firework occurs when a white dwarf star explodes, increasing its brightness ten thousand times. Even with the naked eye, we can enjoy its glory from millions of miles away, and another show is about to begin very soon. NASA scientists and astronomers have been waiting patiently to see it, just as we have been yearning to see solar eclipses and the aurora borealis for the past few years.

In a nova event, a white dwarf star pulls solar material from a nearby red giant star. When the heat and pressure from this become too great, the result is a thermonuclear explosion. This makes the white dwarf appear brighter in the sky, but it does not disintegrate, and once the explosion is over, the star returns to its original brightness. That giant explosion is a nova.

The nova can be seen with the naked eye for more than a week. By that time, it will look like a new star appears in the sky. According to NASA, the explosion could happen anytime between now and September, day or night, although scientists say it could take longer.

This NASA video shows what it looks like.

The last orbital flight of Mars from this star system was in 1946.

The cosmic light show is courtesy of T Coronae Borealis, also known as the Blaze Star or T CrB. It is a binary star system consisting of a white dwarf and an ancient red giant star located in the northern part of the galaxy about 3,000 light-years from Earth. It is part of the Corona Borealis constellation which forms a distinctive C-shape in the sky mainly during the summer months.

The white dwarf, which is the dead remains of a star, is the size of Earth but has a mass comparable to that of the Sun. Meanwhile, the aging red giant is a dying star that is shedding matter into space. The white dwarf’s enormous gravitational pull is pulling material ejected from the red giant. Once the white dwarf has accumulated enough matter, the heat increases so much that it causes an uncontrollable thermonuclear reaction. That explosion is called a nova.

The first nova to emerge from this star system was in 1946. This is a cycle that has been going on since it was first discovered more than 800 years ago.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will give birth to a lot of new astronomers, giving young people a cosmic phenomenon they can observe for themselves, ask their own questions and collect their own data,” said Dr. Rebecca Hounsell, assistant research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It will inspire the next generation of scientists.”

Where is Corona Borealis?

You probably aren’t as familiar with Corona Borealis as you are with constellations like the Big Dipper, which are easier to recognize. It’s difficult to spot in the night sky unless the weather is clear. Light pollution from big cities can also make it difficult to find.

NASA says the easiest way to find Corona Borealis is to look for Vega and Arcturus, the two brightest stars in the Northern Hemisphere. (Skygazing apps for your phone can help with this.) From there, you can draw an imaginary line between the two. Corona Borealis is roughly in the middle. You can use the graphic below to see what we mean.

This image taken by NASA shows constellations in the night sky.

This nova will occur in the constellation Corona Borealis, near the constellation Hercules and right between Vega and Arcturus.

NASA

Alternatively, you can also look for the constellation Hercules, and Corona Borealis will be right next to it. Remember that you can’t see the star in question until the nova erupts, so if you look up into the sky before it happens, the spot where the nova will occur will not be visible.

When will the nova occur?

No one knows for sure. Astronomers and scientists only know that the nova is going to explode any time. Most of them agree that the nova may explode anytime before September, although it may take longer.

Since novae can occur at any time, NASA relies on citizen astronomers and space enthusiasts to report novae when they occur.

“Using social media and email, (observers) will send out immediate alerts,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hess, head of the Astroparticle Physics Lab at NASA Goddard. “We’re again relying on the global community’s interaction with T CREB.”

Early detection could help NASA collect more data about the phenomenon, leading to a better understanding of its mechanism.

“We will observe the nova event at its peak and during its decline, when the visible energy of the explosion fades,” Hounsell said. “But it is equally important to obtain data during the early phase of the explosion – so data collected by those enthusiastic citizen scientists looking for novae will contribute dramatically to our findings.”

Will I need a telescope to see the nova?

No. NASA says this nova will be visible to the naked eye on a clear night.

However, it’s important to know what to look for. The nova will not look like the explosions depicted in Michael Bay’s films. It will simply look like another star in the sky that wasn’t there before.

It will also be quite bright, so it will be quite noticeable. Those who have binoculars and telescopes will definitely get a better view.

What is the difference between a nova and a supernova?

Most people have heard of the term “supernova.” It’s the last breath of a star as it goes dark. However, that last breath is also the biggest explosion ever witnessed by humans, as the star violently ejects matter into space. Scientists believe that supernovae are responsible for the elements heavier than iron in the universe. Strangely enough, the iron in your blood may also have a connection to supernovae or similar cosmic explosions.

Novas, on the other hand, require two stars. One star is always a white dwarf, while the other is usually a red giant.

There are other types of novae as well. Hypernovae are supernovae that attain a certain size and brightness. Typically, they are about 10 or more times brighter than standard supernovae. Another type, an extremely rare kilonova, occurs when two neutron stars collide, releasing an incredible gravitational wave along with electromagnetic radiation.

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