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an international team of astronomers has discovered a timing mechanism that allows them to predict exactly when a superdense star will unleash incredibly powerful explosions.
"We found a clock that ticks slower and slower, and when it slows down too much, boom! The bomb explodes," says lead author Diego Altamirano of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
But why go to the trouble of simulating the process, when supernovae are happening all over the sky, and can be observed form a telescope? Jordan explains: "When we look up into space we can only observe the results of the explosion, and have never caught a supernova in the act of exploding."
Studying this initial X-ray outburst will also give astronomers a signature to help them spy other newborn supernovas and set their time of explosion to within a few seconds, instead of a few days like previous timing estimates.
"We also now know what X-ray pattern to look for," Gehrels said. "Hopefully we will be able to find many more supernovae at this critical moment."