Once-in-a-lifetime star explosion, visible from Earth, could happen any day now

a bright yellow star against the blackness of space. bright pinpoints of light can be seen in the background
A red giant star and white dwarf orbit each other in this illustration of a nova similar to T Coronae Borealis (Image credit: NASA)

If you've always wanted to witness a stellar explosion, your time is about to come. 

T Coronae Borealis, also known as T CrB (pronounced tee-core-bore) or the "Blaze Star," is on the precipice of a massive explosion — one that should be visible from Earth.

According to calculations by Brad Schaefer, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Louisiana State University, along with data from amateur astronomers affiliated with the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), the nova should occur within a few months of May 2024.

T CrB is a binary star system some 3,000 light-years away that consists of a white dwarf and a red giant. It's also a recurrent nova, which means the system explodes regularly. (That's what makes this a nova rather than a supernova — the latter is a one-and-done event that's a dying star's last breath.)

Humans first recorded T CrB's nova in the year 1217; German abbey leader Abbott Burchard wrote about "a faint star that for a time shone with great light." Since then, we've observed two more of T CrB's novas, most recently in 1946. Even though we've only witnessed three events, scientists believe the explosions occur quite regularly, once every 79 or 80 years, which puts us on target right now. 

Plus, in March 2023, they noticed a "pre-eruption dip" in T CrB's brightness, indicating that the nova should occur imminently.

"There are a few recurrent novas with very short cycles, but typically, we don't often see a repeated outburst in a human lifetime, and rarely one so relatively close to our own system," Dr. Rebekah Hounsell, an assistant research scientist specializing in nova events at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. "It's incredibly exciting to have this front-row seat."

Once T CrB goes nova, it should appear as an extremely bright star in the night sky, and you'll be able to witness this brightness for about a week. To see it, you'll want to look for the constellation Hercules, between the bright stars of Vega and Arcturus. Just to its side is a U-shaped curve of stars called the Northern Crown. T CrB is located in this crown, and once it goes nova, you shouldn't be able to miss it with the naked eye.

A conceptual image of how to find Hercules and the "Northern Crown" in the night sky, created using planetarium software. Look up after sunset during summer months to find Hercules, then scan between Vega and Arcturus, where the distinct pattern of Corona Borealis may be identified. (Image credit: NASA)

"Typically, nova events are so faint and far away that it’s hard to clearly identify where the erupting energy is concentrated," aid Dr. Elizabeth Hays, chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA Goddard. "This one will be really close, with a lot of eyes on it, studying the various wavelengths and hopefully giving us data to start unlocking the structure and specific processes involved. We can’t wait to get the full picture of what’s going on."

As soon as we get word that the nova is underway, we'll be sure to provide updates

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Stefanie Waldek
Contributing writer

Space.com contributing writer Stefanie Waldek is a self-taught space nerd and aviation geek who is passionate about all things spaceflight and astronomy. With a background in travel and design journalism, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University, she specializes in the budding space tourism industry and Earth-based astrotourism. In her free time, you can find her watching rocket launches or looking up at the stars, wondering what is out there. Learn more about her work at www.stefaniewaldek.com.

  • Helio
    The location is marked here as a small red circle....

  • Unclear Engineer
    What would be cool is a time lapse video of the star appearing. But, because we really don't know when that will happen, within at least months, it would be hard to assign a major telescope to keep looking at the location, waiting for it to happen. And, if it is not a space telescope, it might be on the wrong side of the planet when the star first kicks off its thermonuclear explosion.