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Fri Nov 9, 2018, 11:21 PM

Holy Cow! Astronomers Agog at Mysterious New Supernova

An event known as "Cow" that has rocked astronomy since June likely offers a close look at the birth of a neutron star or black hole

By Davide Castelvecchi, Nature magazine on November 7, 2018

An artist’s rendition of a black hole shortly after tearing apart a star—the previous explanation for an enigmatic cosmic explosion
observed in June. New data hint, however, that astronomers may have instead witnessed a black hole being born.
Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

For many astronomers, 2018 will be remembered as the Year of the Cow—after the nickname of a spectacular stellar explosion that has kept them busy for months.

The unusual event has offered an unprecedented window on to the collapse of a star, two teams of researchers suggest in papers submitted to the arXiv preprint server on 25 October.

Contrary to the slow ramp-up of a typical supernova, Cow became stupendously bright essentially overnight, leaving astronomers perplexed.

“It popped up out of nowhere,” says Stephen Smartt, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, who first discovered the explosion, and who named it according to an alphabetical protocol that just happened to spell out the word ‘cow’.


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