The brilliant flash of an exploding star's shockwave -- what astronomers call the "shock breakout" -- is illustrated in artist's concept.
The illustration shows a red supergiant star 500 hundred times bigger and 20,000 brighter than our sun. When the star's internal furnace can no longer sustain nuclear fusion its core collapses under gravity. A shockwave from the implosion rushes upward through the star's layers. The shockwave initially breaks through the star's visible surface as a series of finger-like plasma jets. Only 20 minute later, the full fury of the shockwave reaches the surface and the doomed star blasts apart as a supernova explosion.
The illustration is based on photometric observations made by NASA's Kepler space telescope. By closely monitoring the star KSN 2011d, located 1.2 billion light-years away, Kepler caught the onset of the early flash and subsequent explosion.
NASA Ames manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with JPL at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.
More information about the Kepler mission is at http://www.nasa.gov/kepler.