A flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. So when a distant star shines five billion times brighter than our sun, you know it ain’t long for this world. NASA’s Hubble Telescope began filming a time-lapse of the SN 2018gv supernova in 2018, less than a year before it fizzled into the ether.
Supernovas are dying stars that, upon reaching critical mass, become hot enough to ignite a sustained thermonuclear process—sort of like a nuclear bomb or a punctured lithium-ion battery. The SN 2018gv supernova began as a white dwarf and accelerated toward its critical mass as it accumulated material from a companion star.
But interestingly enough, the SN 2018gv supernova didn’t break any records for brightness. That’s because supernova of this type always peak at the same brightness before falling apart. Astronomers can even calculate the distance between cosmic bodies by comparing a supernova’s “observable” brightness to its actual, standard brightness. A neat party trick, if you ask me.
NASA’s SN 2018gv timelapse is available on YouTube, but it’s only 30 seconds long. Now that the SN 2018gv supernova is no longer… “super,” astronomers can continue to observe the region to study how supernovas transition to nebula (which are the dust clouds left behind by a massive cosmic explosion).