A spectacular supernova explosion, more than a billion times brighter than our sun, marked the birth of a neutron star orbiting its hot and dense companion. Now these two dense remnants are destined to spiral into each other in about a billion years, eventually merging and yielding some of the heaviest known elements in the universe.
The explosion occurred in a galaxy similar to our own Milky Way, nearly 920 million light-years away. A small telescope at Palomar observatory in California detected the first photons from the supernova — named “iPTF 14gqr” — just hours after the explosion, when it was more than 10 times hotter than the surface of our sun. As the brightness of the supernova evolved during the next two weeks, an international team of astronomers used the data to trace the origin of the explosion to a massive star with a radius 500 times that of the sun.