Two stars exchange matter. A giant star absorbs matter from another star. Accretion process in a binary system.
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 14, 2024 ·  3 min read

Once-in-a-lifetime Event: Star ‘Explosion’ Will Light Up The Sky, and It Can Happen at Any Time

Stargazers around the globe are set to witness a spectacular celestial event this summer. The binary star system T Corona Borealis is expected to undergo a nova explosion, a rare occurrence that hasn’t been seen since 1946. Here’s what you need to know about this extraordinary event.

What is a Nova Explosion?

A nova explosion is a dramatic event involving a binary star system, where a white dwarf and a red giant closely orbit each other. In the case of T Coronae Borealis, the white dwarf gradually strips hydrogen from the red giant. This process leads to a buildup of gas on the white dwarf’s surface, eventually causing a thermonuclear explosion.1 Unlike a supernova, which is the death of a star, a nova explosion doesn’t destroy the white dwarf but instead ejects accumulated material into space in a brilliant flash.

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The Blaze Star: T Coronae Borealis

bright star woman silhouette
Credit: Pixabay

T Coronae Borealis (T CrB), often referred to as the “Blaze Star,” is situated in the Northern Crown constellation, approximately 3,000 light-years from Earth.2 The system is composed of a white dwarf and an ancient red giant. Historical records indicate that T CrB’s last visible nova explosion occurred in 1946, and its behavior in recent years suggests a similar event might be imminent.

Nova Explosion Timing and Visibility

Supernova explosion
Credit: Getty

Scientists predict that the nova explosion could occur any time from now until September. If it does happen, the event will be visible to the naked eye for about a week, making it a rare opportunity for both professional and amateur astronomers to witness a nova firsthand.3 Dr. Rebekah Hounsell, a NASA assistant research scientist, emphasized the excitement, noting, “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.”

Finding T Coronae Borealis

how to find Hercules and the “Northern Crown” in the night sky
Credit: NASA

To spot T CrB, look for the Northern Crown constellation, a horseshoe-shaped cluster of stars located west of the Hercules constellation. The best time to observe this constellation is during clear summer nights. Locate the two brightest stars in the Northern Hemisphere—Arcturus and Vega—and draw a line between them to find Hercules and the Northern Crown.

Scientific Importance and Citizen Participation

NASA logo
Credit: Pixabay

The anticipated nova explosion of T Coronae Borealis is not just a spectacle; it holds significant scientific value. Dr. Elizabeth Hays, chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA Goddard, highlighted the role of citizen scientists and space enthusiasts in observing these events. Using social media and instant alerts, they provide real-time data that contribute to scientific research.

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Advanced Observation Tools

The James Webb Telescope. Space Observatory for the Study of the Universe and exploration of deep space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Since the last observed nova in 1946, advancements in technology have dramatically improved our ability to study such events. Instruments like NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, and various other ground-based and space-based telescopes are poised to capture detailed data across different wavelengths. These observations will provide unprecedented insights into the dynamics of nova explosions.

The Unpredictable Nature of a Nova Explosion

Credit: Pixabay

Despite the predictions, there is no certainty that the nova explosion will occur precisely as expected. Dr. Koji Mukai from NASA Goddard pointed out, “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”. This unpredictability adds an element of suspense to the anticipation surrounding T Coronae Borealis.


Nova explosion reenactment
Credit: NASA

The potential nova explosion of T CrB is a reminder of the dynamic and ever-changing nature of our universe. Whether you are an experienced astronomer or a curious onlooker, this event represents a unique opportunity to witness a spectacular cosmic phenomenon. Keep your eyes on the night sky this summer—you might just see history in the making.

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  1. NASA, global astronomers await rare nova explosion.” Phys. Beth Ridgeway. June 7, 2024.
  2. NASA, Global Astronomers Await Rare Nova Explosion.” NASA. Beth ridgeway. June 6, 2024.
  3. Once-in-a-lifetime star ‘explosion’ set to light up the sky could happen any moment from now.” Lad Bible. Anish Vij. June 9, 2024.