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Supernova alert! Astronomers just found a way to predict explosive star deaths

Wouldn’t it be nice to know when a giant star is about to die in a cataclysmic supernova explosion? A team of astronomers has done just that. If you see a giant red star surrounded by a thick shroud of material, watch out — the star will likely explode within a few years.

When a massive star approaches the end of its life, it goes through several violent phases. Deep in the star’s core, it shifts from fusing hydrogen to fusing heavier elements, starting with helium and moving up to carbon, oxygen, magnesium and silicon. At the end of the chain, the star eventually forms iron in its core. Because iron saps energy rather than releasing it, this spells the end for the star, and in less than a dozen minutes, it turns itself inside out in a fantastic explosion called a supernova.

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