‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ explosive event in space expected soon: What to know

(NEXSTAR) — Stargazers and skywatchers have been treated to a stunning show of celestial events already in 2024: the total solar eclipse, the return of the ‘devil comet,’ and multiple nights colored by the northern lights have undoubtedly topped the list for some.

But if that wasn’t enough for you, space experts say we’re due for another stellar sighting: a rare nova explosion that’ll bring a “new star” to the night sky.

Earlier this year, NASA reported a star system, some 3,000 light years away, is expected to erupt.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that will create a lot of new astronomers out there, giving young people a cosmic event they can observe for themselves, ask their own questions, and collect their own data,” Dr. Rebekah Hounsell, an assistant research scientist specializing in nova events at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. “It’ll fuel the next generation of scientists.”

Here’s what you need to know.

The ‘rare nova explosion’ of T CrB

Roughly every 79 years, there is an explosive event in the Northern Crown, a binary system roughly 3,000 light-years away from Earth. Nestled within the star system is the nova, T Coronae Borealis, otherwise known as the Blaze Star or T CrB.

T CrB is one of 10 recurring novae scientists have found in the galaxy, Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office Lead at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, previously told Nexstar.

These novae, the plural of nova, consist “of a normal or red giant star and a white dwarf about the size of the Earth,” Cooke explained. “The larger star is dumping material onto the surface of its white dwarf companion; as material accumulates, the temperature keeps rising until a thermonuclear runaway is initiated.”

That will then cause T CrB to erupt, or “go nova.”

What happens when T CrB explodes?

Unlike a supernova — which is a “final, titanic explosion” — the white dwarf of T CrB will remain intact during this nova event, Dr. Hounsell explained. Instead, it launches the material that has accumulated on it hurling it into space.

It will all lead to a flash bright enough we get to see it on Earth, even with the naked eye. The last time we had such a chance was in 1946.

What will T CrB look like from Earth, and how can I see it?

When it reaches nova status, T CrB will appear like a “new star” in the constellation of Corona Borealis, or The Northern Crown.

To find T CrB, you’ll want to look between the constellations of Hercules and Boötes, located toward the north. More specifically, according to the guide below from NASA, it’ll be roughly in line with Vega and Arcturus.

A conceptual image of how to find Hercules and his mighty globular clusters in the sky created using a planetarium software. Look up after sunset during summer months to find Hercules! Scan between Vega and Arcturus, near the distinct pattern of Corona Borealis. Once you find its stars, use binoculars or a telescope to hunt down the globular clusters M13 and M92. If you enjoy your views of these globular clusters, you’re in luck – look for another great globular, M3, in the nearby constellation of Boötes. Credit: NASA

According to Cooke, T CrB will be as bright as the North Star — but only for about a week. Unless you’re in Antarctica, you should be able to get a glimpse of it then.

When will the ‘new star’ appear?

Unlike the solar eclipse, scientists don’t know when exactly the rare nova event will occur.

Over the last decade, T CrB’s behavior has been “strikingly similar” to its behavior in the years leading up to its 1946 eruption, NASA said earlier this month. That has led some researchers to predict that the explosion will occur by September but others warn it could take longer.

NASA, as well as astronomers around the world, have been keeping an eye on the nova. They are also relying on citizen astronomers and space enthusiasts to alert them to any changes they see.

Whenever you’re able to catch a glimpse of T CrB, just remember — the explosion actually happened 3,000 years ago.

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