Arkansas Sky Observatories capture star going nova

MORRILTON - A star became visible to the naked eye after going nova around August 12 in a dense, star-filled area of our summertime skies.

Nova Delphini 2013 (in the constellation of Delphinus, the Dolphin), appeared suddenly among the very faint but rich stars crowded into this area of the Milky Way, easily seen overhead at midnight in dark skies.

Near the constellation of Cygnus, or "Northern Cross," this star jumped from near invisibility to naked eye brightness on August 15 when it was photographed at Arkansas Sky Observatories on Petit Jean Mountain by P. Clay Sherrod.

The star's exact position was carefully measured, as was the precise brightness. Both were then reported to astronomy clearinghouses worldwide.

By August 17, the star was continuing to brighten and was observed at magnitude 5, easily visible to the naked eye on a dark night, provided one knows where to look among the many stars of the Milky Way.

"It is likely the star will continue to brighten for the next week and then slowly fade over the next many months, Sherrod said. "It is possible that it could reach a brightness close to many of the brighter, naked-eye stars by this week," he added.

A nova occurs when a star is struggling between the forces of gravity pulling the weight of the star inward and the forces of atomic fusion - essentially billions of megatons of atomic blasts that push the star outward. Eventually gravity wins out and the star collapses rapidly, forcing compression of the gases and a massive nuclear explosion blows off the outer layers of the star.

The star will still exist but be far less massive than before the blast.

"Any nova is a very rare event, but one of this brightness is extremely uncommon," Sherrod said.

Sherrod estimated it took some 2,500 light years for the image he captured to reach his camera.

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