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The new paper in Nature A surge of light at the birth of a supernova (doi:10.1038/nature25151) describes the fortuitous capture of a supernova "Shock Breakout" - the earliest rise in brightness of a supernova only about 4 hours old. An open access epdf is linked in the Washington Post article if you click from inside it: A self-taught astronomer spotted something no scientist had ever seen which is a good read itself.

His discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, is a landmark for astronomy. Buso’s images are the first to capture the brief “shock breakout” phase of a supernova, when a wave of energy rolls from a star’s core to its exterior just before the star explodes. Computer models had suggested the existence of this phase, but no one had witnessed it.

Is this the earliest that such a phenomenon has been "seen" by a person, or does this observation also hold the record after including all of the automated searches for supernovae by robotic telescopes as well?

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below: "Astronomer Victor Buso poses in front of the telescope with which he witnessed the birth of the supernova 2016gkg. (Victor Buso)" From here. Click/open for full size.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, are you referring only to the initial brightening of a supernova? Not just the first to identify a supernova itself? $\endgroup$ – user10106 Feb 22 '18 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Kozaky the phenomenon is described in the 2nd half of the first sentence "...fortuitous capture of a supernova "Shock Breakout" - the earliest rise in brightness of a supernova only about 4 hours old." but I will add a block quote to make it even clearer. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 22 '18 at 9:27
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No, supernovae have been observed earlier and with better cadence than this one.

The Kepler Satellite has been observing galaxies at a 30 minute cadence from months before the supernova explosion to months afterwards. Most of these have been Type Ia which do not have detectable shock breakouts, but there was one SN with a breakout published in the Astrophysical Journal before this one: "Shock Breakout and Early Light Curves of a Type II-P Supernovae Observed with Kepler".

The Nature paper linked in the question provides 4 other SN that were also detected about as early. I think the new thing here is that it was discovered so early by an amateur astronomer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer, thank you! fyi I have two other questions that are related to surveys; Might the SpaceX Roadster intercept any ongoing surveys? and also Is there a way to find which major sky surveys are currently active? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 11 '18 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ I hope you don't mind that I've added a few line breaks to the formatting of your answer. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 11 '18 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh - I suppose the Roadster will show up in surveys. It is small, but still very nearby. But, it is just one more thing to add to the thousands of asteroids and abandoned satellites nearby that surveys find and either ignore or study depending on who is looking. For a list of surveys, Wikipedia comes to the rescue again (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astronomical_survey#List_of_sky_surveys). $\endgroup$ – eshaya Apr 13 '18 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ It's better to comment about my other questions on the particular question itself, rather than here. That will give you the opportunity to read the question before responding to it! That link was already posted as an answer on the second question, and I've responded to it in a comment there as well. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 13 '18 at 2:39

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