How the ‘Blaze Star,’ some 3,000 light-years from Earth, will give naked-eye stargazers ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ thermonuclear event

It’s not often that there are celestial events that are visible on Earth with the naked eye. However, such a cosmic “once-in-a-lifetime” event will happen very soon despite taking place some 3,000 light-years from Earth.

T Coronae Borealis – otherwise known as the Blaze Star or T CrB – is a binary system situated in the Northern Crown some 3,000 light-years from Earth. The system is comprised of a red giant and a white dwarf – a dead star about the size of Earth. The first recorded sighting of the T CrB nova was in 1217.

Through “relentless gravitational pull,” the white dwarf strips hydrogen from the ancient red giant, which causes a buildup of pressure and heat. Once there is a critical level of pressure on the white dwarf, it triggers a massive thermonuclear explosion.

For T CrB, this explosive event reoccurs approximately every 80 years. The last such explosion happened in 1946. Based on observations of T Coronae Borealis, astronomers believe the Blaze Star is getting ready to explode again. The Blaze Star will remain intact after the explosion as opposed to a supernova which is a final explosion that ends a star’s lifecycle.

Dr. Koji Mukai – a fellow astrophysics researcher at NASA Goddard – admitted, “Recurrent novae are unpredictable and contrarian. When you think there can’t possibly be a reason they follow a certain set pattern, they do – and as soon as you start to rely on them repeating the same pattern, they deviate from it completely. We’ll see how T CrB behaves.”

However, some experts are saying that data is pointing to a possible explosion between now and September 2024.

Dr. Rebekah Hounsell – an assistant research scientist specializing in nova events at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland – stated, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that will create a lot of new astronomers out there, giving young people a cosmic event they can observe for themselves, ask their own questions, and collect their own data. It’ll fuel the next generation of scientists.”

The thermonuclear event is expected to be visible by the naked eye, and at about the same brightness as Polaris – better known as the North Star – the 48th-brightest star in the night sky. The celestial event is expected to be visible to the naked eye for less than a week.

NASA advises amateur stargazers to look for the Northern Crown – a horseshoe-shaped curve of stars west of the Hercules constellation.

To find T Coronae Borealis, start by locating two of the brightest stars in the Northern Hemisphere: Arcturus and Vega. Draw an imaginary line between these stars, and along this line, you will locate Hercules and Corona Borealis.

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