A rare glimpse at a relatively nearby supernova offers clues to how stars die

In May, a star in the Pinwheel galaxy exploded in just the right place at nearly the right time for astronomers to unravel details of its death. It was the closest supernova to go off in the last five years.

Astronomers have long been fascinated with these stellar explosions, which signal the end of life for the universe’s biggest stars. Not only are they dramatic — a supernova can shine 5 billion times as bright as our sun — but the explosions seed the universe with gold, silver, zinc and other elements forged only in a dying star’s last moments.

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