Is it possible to witness a star's death?

  • Given that the stars' distances to Earth are measured in light-years (for example, Sirius is 8.6 light-years away from Earth), what we are seeing as Sirius now is actually its state 8.6 years ago, right?

    So it is possible that a star (maybe not Sirius, I don't know, it's just an example) somehow explodes and creates a supernova, and if this is the case, we will see this event 8.6 years later (I assume everything is right up to this point).

    So my question is, is it possible for me while looking at the sky on a lucky day, suddenly see the explosion of a star that happened x years ago and be the first eye witness of this event? In other words, is there a technology on Earth (emphasis on "on Earth" here, the satellites or space shuttles do not count since they might be slightly closer to the star than the Earth is) that can see this before me?

    My logic is that even the greatest telescope "sees" whatever light it receives. So since a telescope cannot increase the speed of light it receives, it shouldn't be more fast than me. And since light is the fastest way of transferring information, I assume that I am as possible as NASA to see such an event. Is there any way this assumption is wrong?

  • Naked eye nova are fairly common, several per year. Here's one.
    Naked eye supernova are far rarer. SN1987a in the large Magellanic cloud was naked eye visible (vid). From this list, it appears the supernova in 1987 was the most recent naked eye supernova.
    There was a naked eye gamma ray burst in 2008, but I don't think anyone actually got outside in time to see it.

    If you have 50 years to look at the stars, you might see a supernova.
    If you have a small telescope, you can pick them up pretty regularly in nearby galaxies.

    Thanks! I do have a telescope but it hardly lets me to see the satellites of Jupiter. Do you think I can be able to see one? And how frequent do you mean by "regularly"?

    They're usually one or two a year in one or another of the Messier object galaxies. You have to keep up with Sky and Telescope or similar, to find out when and where.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM