I am writing a science fiction novel, where a ship is stranded in a single star system (a red supergiant). One of the plot points is the star becoming supernova in several hours, so the characters have to fix their ship before that happens.
I have basic knowledge of how it works: Iron generated from nuclear fusion gets accumulated in the core, until it reaches a point when iron fusion starts. As iron fusion is an endothermic reaction, the core is no longer able to generate enough energy to hold against its own gravity and external layers pressure, so it collapses, and explode.
I have read that once the iron fusion starts inside the core, the collapse occurs within minutes, that the collapse itself lasts a few seconds (even less than a second), and that the shockwave takes several hours to reach the surface. Is all that correct?
The thing is that I need the characters to bee able to predict the explosion in a short term. A few hours or even minutes. It would be great if they could be aware of the core collapse and start a countdown.
So, are there any external cue of these events, like changes in luminosity or color? Does the star spectrum change when iron fusion starts, or when the core collapses? I know that the core collapse generates a huge amount of neutrinos. Is this amount so intense that it can be easily detectable? (that is, without a huge detector in an underground facility). Can the amount of iron in the core be estimated from tha star spectrum and size, so the aproximate time of the collapse could be predicted?