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Rare star explosion expected to be ‘once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity,’ NASA officials say

Another special space event is set to occur this year, with what could be a “once-in-a-lifetime observing opportunity,” according to NASA.

This is a nova explosion in a star system 3,000 light-years from Earth, and astronomers predict it will be visible to the naked eye sometime in 2024.

“Unfortunately, like the eclipse, we don’t know its timing,” said Bill Cook, director of NASA’s Meteor Environment Office (MEO) at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He told News Digital.

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“But when that happens, it’s going to be a reminder.”

Astronomers predict that a star system 3,000 light-years from Earth will explode into a nova and become visible this year, according to NASA officials. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiesinger)

T coronae borealis, nicknamed the “Flaming Star,” is one of ten repeating novae known in the galaxy.

“A typical nova consists of a star like a red giant (a star larger than the Sun) and a white dwarf, a star about the size of Earth,” Cook said.

“And that red giant is ejecting material onto the surface of that white dwarf. They’re orbiting each other and very close together.”

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Cook explained that when enough material is dumped onto the surface of a white dwarf, the temperature becomes so high that a thermonuclear runway begins on the surface of the white dwarf.

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Bill Cook, director of NASA’s Meteor Environment Office, says the chance to see a nova explosion is more unique than watching a solar eclipse. (NASA)

“When that happens, the white dwarf blows all its material out into space and becomes very bright, hundreds of times brighter than before,” Cook said.

“And if it’s close to us or relatively close, we’ll see a new beginning appear in the sky.”

Cook explained that while you may have previously needed a telescope to see the star, it suddenly flares up to the point where it can be seen with the naked eye.

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“T. coronae borealis is unusual in that it never explodes its stack,” Cook said. “It happens about every 79 years.”

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This animation/artist concept shows a red giant star and a white dwarf orbiting each other as a nova explodes. (NASA/Conceptual Imagery Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center)

According to NASA’s blog, the last time it exploded was in 1946. This time, skywatchers will be looking at a star that exploded 3,000 years ago. This is because it took that long for the light to reach here.

“3,000 years ago, when that star exploded, the Bronze Age was coming to an end,” Cook said. “The Kingdom of David rose in Palestine. Things like this were happening, but the explosion happened not that long ago – 3,000 years ago.”

Currently, T. coronae is at grade +10. That means you need a small telescope to see it.

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“But if the stack were to explode, it would be around magnitude +2,” Cook said.

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To spot Hercules, look up to the sky after sunset during the summer, according to a NASA blog. (NASA)

“So how bright it is, it’s almost as bright as Polaris, Polaris.”

The explosion, the light produced when a white dwarf blasts all material from its surface, will be visible just to the right of the constellation Hercules.

“you [will] Look at all the new stars that pop up out there,” Cook said.

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“It appears to come out of nowhere and will remain visible for about a week before darkening,” he added.

A conceptual image by NASA shows a nova exploding. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

And the same thing will happen again in another 79 years.

“It’s like Halley’s Comet, but most people don’t know much about it,” Cook said. “Harry grabs all the press.”

Cook said there have been other nova outbursts like the one in 1975.

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However, it was not a reoccurrence, nor was it as bright as astronomers expected T coronae borealis to appear.

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This animation shows a white dwarf surviving an explosion. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

“Will it be the star of Bethlehem? It’s not,” Cook said.

“But it takes about a week for a new star to appear in our sky. And let’s be honest, how often can you see a star explode?”

Cook recommends that if you hear of an explosion, get outside as soon as possible to see it.

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“Keep in mind, it will only be visible for a few days,” Cook said, adding that the explosion would eventually “disappear.”

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Sometime in 2024, T. coronae borealis will explode in space, and astronomers believe this ultra-rare event will be visible to people on Earth. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Cook said the observations of T coronae were comparable to the great American solar eclipse that occurred on April 8.

“I’ve been to several solar eclipses and it’s one of nature’s most amazing sights,” he said.

“But frankly, there are two solar eclipses a year. If there’s no solar eclipse over the United States, you could go to Egypt in 2027 to see a solar eclipse. Star explosions are rare. You can’t see it. That’s what makes it unique.”

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