Study reveals violent material ejection process of a dying massive star

By Ehtesham

Published on:

In the vast cosmic tapestry, the grand finale of a massive star’s life is nothing short of spectacular. A celestial phenomenon, known as a supernova, marks the culmination of a stellar journey, and it’s not just a quiet exit.

A recent revelation by a dedicated research team, led by Dr. Zhang Jujia from Yunnan Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Prof. Wang Xiaofeng from Tsinghua University, has unveiled the dramatic process of material ejection from a dying massive star.

This captivating discovery emerged from the observation of the extraordinary supernova SN 2023ixf, and it promises to enrich our understanding of the final chapter in the lives of massive stars.

Type II Supernovae

Type II supernovae, often abbreviated as SNe II, stand as some of the most common stellar explosions in the cosmos. Yet, despite their prevalence, the specifics of the final stages in the lives of their massive hydrogen-rich progenitors remain shrouded in mystery.

These progenitors, massive and brimming with hydrogen, embark on a tumultuous journey that culminates in a core-collapse explosion, triggering the supernova. It’s a cosmic spectacle, and the events leading up to it are equally intriguing, with diverse outcomes based on the final stages of evolution and the resulting circumstellar environments.

Late-Time Evolution

Understanding the link between the explosive brilliance of SNe II and the late-time evolution of massive stars requires capturing a unique phenomenon—first-light signals from the supernova explosion.

These signals, called flashed spectra, occur due to the ionization of circumstellar material (CSM) and stellar wind. These materials are ionized by ultraviolet and high-energy photons released during the shock breakout cooling phase.

This is where the extraordinary SN 2023ixf steps onto the cosmic stage. Located in the proximity of a nearby galaxy, Messier 101, the eruption of SN 2023ixf provides astronomers with an exceptional opportunity to delve into this enigmatic cosmic process.

The key lies in the timely acquisition of high-cadence flash spectra, taken within one to five days of the explosion. These spectra hold the power to place strict limitations on the properties of the CSM enveloping this supernova.

Material Loss

Through careful analysis, astronomers have estimated that the progenitor of SN 2023ixf shed material at a rate of 6 × 10^-4 solar masses per year during the two to three years leading up to the explosion.

This material, located in close proximity to the progenitor and moving at a velocity of 55 km/s, formed a compact CSM shell within a radius of less than 7 × 10^14 cm from the star.

Considering the high mass-loss rate and the relatively brisk wind velocity, coupled with pre-explosion observations made roughly two decades ago, the progenitor of SN 2023ixf could be classified as a short-lived yellow hypergiant. It would have undergone this transformation from a red supergiant shortly before the grand explosion.

Fate of Massive Stars

The saga of SN 2023ixf is far from over. Dr. Zhang Jujia and the dedicated team of researchers are relentlessly working to uncover the full story behind this extraordinary supernova.

It’s poised to become a pivotal milestone in the history of Type II supernovae, promising to shed light on the destiny of massive stars in the mass range from 10 to 20 solar masses. This celestial narrative, rich in its complexity, is an ode to the inquisitive spirit of astronomers and the boundless wonders of the cosmos.


What is a supernova, and why are they significant in astronomy?

A supernova is a powerful stellar explosion, and it plays a crucial role in dispersing elements throughout the universe and can lead to the formation of celestial objects.

Why are Type II supernovae particularly intriguing for astronomers?

Type II supernovae involve massive hydrogen-rich progenitors, and their final stages of evolution and the resulting circumstellar environments offer a diverse range of outcomes.

What are “flashed spectra,” and how do they help in understanding supernovae?

Flashed spectra are the first-light signals of supernova explosions, created by the ionization of circumstellar material and stellar wind due to high-energy photons. They provide insights into the conditions surrounding the supernova.

What makes SN 2023ixf a unique opportunity for astronomers?

SN 2023ixf’s proximity to the Messier 101 galaxy and the timely acquisition of high-cadence flash spectra provide an exceptional chance to study the material ejection process of a dying massive star.

What are the implications of the progenitor of SN 2023ixf being a short-lived yellow hypergiant?

This classification offers valuable insights into the late-stage evolution of massive stars and their journey towards becoming a supernova.