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6/17/2024 10:25:24 AM
T Coronae Borealis set to brighten the night sky in 2024
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T Coronae Borealis set to brighten the night sky in 2024


Monday, June 17, 2024

Richard Harris Richard Harris

In 2024, stargazers can witness a rare celestial event as T Coronae Borealis (TCrB), a recurrent nova, flares up from invisibility to naked-eye brightness. Last seen in the 1940s, TCrB's expected outburst will offer a fleeting yet spectacular display, captivating astronomers and enthusiasts alike.

This year, keep a lookout for T Coronae Borealis (T CrB), a recurrent nova set to dazzle astronomers by brightening from invisibility to naked-eye visibility.

T CrB, a star not seen without a telescope since the 1940s will soon grace our night sky with a fleeting yet spectacular appearance. This celestial event is caused by an outburst, or nova, from the star system known as T Coronae Borealis. Astronomers have been captivated by T CrB for generations, with its eruptions being recorded as far back as 1217 A.D.

Photo Credit: Alison Klesman

T Coronae Borealis: The brightest nova of our generation to illuminate the night sky in 2024

These outbursts occur approximately every 80 years, with the last one documented in 1946. The next expected outburst is predicted to occur between now and September. According to Bradley Schaefer, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University and a long-time observer of T CrB, "This is the one big chance you have of seeing the brightest nova of the generation."

T CrB's 80-year cycle is well understood. The star remains stable, gradually increasing in brightness, followed by a pre-eruption dip in magnitude. About 11 months later, a significant explosion occurred. Observations in 2015 showed fluctuations in brightness, and by April of last year, a dip in brightness indicated an impending eruption. Schaefer notes, "T CrB could flare up any night now, or it might take a few more months, but it's likely to happen this year."

T CrB is situated near the constellation Hercules. The star's position is marked with a green dot in this view, visible around 2 A.M. local daylight time in mid-April. Although constellations rise and set at different times throughout the year, their relative positions remain unchanged.

Photo Credit: Alison Klesman

The science behind the burst

The science behind the burst

T CrB is a recurrent nova, known for briefly increasing in brightness roughly once a century. Such novae are exceedingly rare, with fewer than a dozen known in the Milky Way. However, there may be more with longer intervals, potentially taking thousands to hundreds of thousands of years to reach an outburst. Scientists are still unraveling the mechanisms behind T CrB's periodic explosions, with some suspecting the large mass of the white dwarf in the system plays a crucial role.

T CrB comprises a red giant and a white dwarf orbiting each other. Over the past 80 years, the white dwarf has amassed matter from its companion, accumulating roughly one Earth mass every 50 years, according to Schaefer. As this material builds up, the pressure and temperature on the white dwarf's surface increase until hydrogen ignites, resulting in an explosive burst akin to a hydrogen bomb. However, this blast does not destroy the white dwarf but rather clears away the accreted material, allowing the cycle to repeat.

The earliest known observation of T CrB dates back to 1217 when German monks near Augsburg witnessed a faint star suddenly brighten. Following its 1866 eruption, astronomers predicted the next one would occur in 1946. Just before this event, amateur astronomer Leslie C. Peltier noted a dip in brightness, though he missed the outburst itself due to illness.

Amateur astronomers have significantly contributed to observations of T CrB since its 1866 eruption. Schaefer has published numerous papers on T CrB and compiled a light curve from amateur observations. Current activity suggests an imminent outburst.

Photo Credit: Bradley E. Schaefer

Observing T CrB

Observing T CrB

Typically invisible to the naked eye with a magnitude of 10, T CrB will shine as brightly as Polaris (magnitude 2) at its peak, remaining visible for a few days to a week before fading.

To locate T CrB, look for the constellation Corona Borealis, also known as the Northern Crown, which lies just west of Hercules and is best seen in the Northern Hemisphere. The crown’s brightest star, Alpha (α) CrB, has a magnitude of 2.2, similar to T CrB during its outburst. From there, trace the curve of the crown eastward past the stars Gamma (γ) and Delta (δ) CrB. T CrB is situated approximately 2.2° east of Delta and can currently be viewed with a telescope or binoculars.

When T CrB reaches its peak brightness, it will only remain so for half a day before fading, not to be seen again with the naked eye for another 80 years. So be prepared and keep an eye on the night sky for this rare and spectacular celestial event.


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