The brilliant flash of an exploding star’s shockwave—what astronomers call the “shock breakout” — is illustrated in this cartoon animation. The animation begins with a view of a red supergiant star that is 500 times bigger and 20,000 brighter than our sun. When the star’s internal furnace can no longer sustain nuclear fusion its core to collapses under gravity. A shockwave from the implosion rushes upward through the star’s layers. The shockwave initially breaks through the star’s visible surface as a series of finger-like plasma jets. Only 20 minute later the full fury of the shockwave reaches the surface and the doomed star blasts apart as a supernova explosion. This animation is based on photometric observations made by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. By closely monitoring the star KSN 2011d, located 1.2 billion light-years away, Kepler caught the onset of the early flash and subsequent explosion.
Credit: NASA Ames, STScI/G. Bacon