New Supernova, and Internet on the Moon

For the very first time in the history of
science, astronomers have observed a supernova in real time — at least, as the light hit
Earth. And it happened to be from a particularly
big and powerful type of star — twenty times larger than the sun and five times as hot
— self-destructing in an appropriately amazing explosion. The observation changed the way we understand
this kind of star, and is paving the way for other real-time observations of space phenomena. Oh and also? You can now watch SciShow Space
on the moon. I’m Hank Green and welcome to another episode
of SciShow Space News. [Intro] Supernovas, the explosions of stars too massive
to withstand their own gravitation, are kind of the definition of awesome. Often brighter than ten billion suns, they’re
also pretty rare in the observable universe. Until recently, we only got to see about one
supernova a century, and because of that, there’s a long list of things we do not know
about them. Last week, astronomers working at the Lawrence
Berkeley Laboratory shrank that list, publishing the first real-time observations of a supernova
as its light arrived at Earth. The discovery was made a year ago by a new
system designed to alert astronomers about supernovas and other celestial events as soon
as they begin — with the sorta failed-band-name title of intermediate Palomar Transient Factory. Last May, a telescope at Mount Palomar in
California picked up the first signs of the supernova, and the computer that sifts through
the telescope’s data sent an alert to astronomers, who were quick to train an array of space-
and Earth-based telescopes on the explosion within 15 hours of its detection. Hawaii’s Keck telescope measured chemical
signatures in the supernova’s light spectrum early enough that astronomers were able to
identify what kind of star it had been. And it turns out likely to have been a rare
Wolf-Rayet star, a type of star so massive that it fuses heavy elements like sodium,
magnesium, and even iron. As these elements rise to the surface of the
star, they set off incredibly heavy solar winds, shredding up the star’s atmosphere
and blowing it into space. This intense solar wind can interfere with
observations, making wolf-rayets especially hard to find. And we’ve never seen one go
supernova, until now. Some astronomers were actually beginning to
think that maybe these stars couldn’t explode, and instead just faded away as they lost mass
to their solar winds. But now we know that they can, because we
watched it happen, 360 million light-years away. Speaking of watching, when astronauts return
to the moon someday, they’ll be able to watch their favorite reality TV shows … or, us! The first broadband connection to the moon,
completed by the MIT Lincoln Lab and NASA, is meant to improve communication between
astronauts and Earth-based mission controllers, but as the team will demonstrate at a conference
next week, the connection is strong enough to stream, like, an episode of Game of Thrones
if you wanted to. Sorcery!!! The project, called the Lunar Laser Communication
Demonstration, kicked off last September. It uses four telescopes that transmit laser
pulses, instead of radio waves, from a ground terminal in New Mexico to a moon-orbiting
satellite that we’ve told you about before — the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment
Explorer, or LADEE. Between the four telescopes, this signal is
able to pierce clouds and other interference in our atmosphere to reach the satellite,
where it’s channeled into a fiber optic cable, amplified about 30,000 times, converted into
electrical pulses, and transmitted to a receiver. About 4,800 times faster than radio, it’s
the first two-way communication system using lasers instead of radio waves, and NASA is
calling it the next generation of communication technology. They’re hoping future near-Earth missions
will use it, too, and they’re also looking to extend their reach to Mars and deep space
in the not-so-distant future. Next generation, indeed. Thanks for joining me for this update of the
week’s space news! If you want to keep exploring the universe
with us, check out to learn how you can help support SciShow Space.
And don’t forget to go to and subscribe!

Danny Hutson

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