A RARE stellar explosion will be visible to the naked eye in the night sky this evening.
The “nova” – an eruption from a distant star – burst into view earlier this week and is expected to shine brightly for several days.
The outburst from the star named RS Ophiuchi about 4,566 light-years away has been photographed by astronomers throughout the week.
They say it’s the object’s largest nova in 15 years and offers stargazers a great chance to witness a stellar event without the need for equipment.
RS Ophiuchi is a white dwarf – a small very dense star that is typically the size of a planet. It erupts periodically in what is known as a recurrent nova.
“There’s a nova that’s currently *barely* visible to the naked eye,” scientist Dr Patrick Treuthardt wrote on Twitter this week.
“RS Ophiuchi is a white dwarf with a red giant companion that dumps mass onto it.
“Every 20 years or so, enough mass builds up that causes the surface of the white dwarf to explode.”
The nova was so bright earlier this week that it reached a magnitude of around 4.8 – seven times brighter than usual.
The last major nova from RS Ophiuchi was all the way back in 2006.
Its latest eruption was first reported on 8 August 2021 by Irish amateur astronomer Keith Geary.
Her discovery was later backed up by similar reports from around the world.
WHERE TO LOOK
To spot the nova, look to the equatorial constellation of Ophiuchus on a clear night.
From the Northern Hemisphere, you can spot Ophiuchus in the south at nightfall.
From the Southern Hemisphere, look more overhead around mid-evening.
Nova are effectively the result of a star getting a little greedy.
RS Ophiuchi is a binary star, specifically a white dwarf orbiting closely with a red giant – a type of very large and bright star.
As the white dwarf absorbs hydrogen gas from its neighbour, it grows in mass until it eventually blows off steam with a massive stellar explosion.
Novas are not to be confused with supernovas, the bright and powerful explosion that signals the violent death of a star.
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