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For many astronomers, 2018 will be remembered as the Year of the Cow—after the nickname of a spectacular stellar explosion that has kept them busy for months.

The unusual event has offered an unprecedented window on to the collapse of a star, two teams of researchers suggest in papers submitted to the arXiv preprint server on 25 October.

Contrary to the slow ramp-up of a typical supernova, Cow became stupendously bright essentially overnight, leaving astronomers perplexed.

“It popped up out of nowhere,” says Stephen Smartt, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, who first discovered the explosion, and who named it according to an alphabetical protocol that just happened to spell out the word ‘cow’.

This is “the dream” for those who study stellar explosions, adds Raffaella Margutti, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who led one of the teams behind the latest two papers.

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Category: Science