Could a ‘new star’ appear in the sky this summer? Here’s what to know

(NEXSTAR) — As if 2024 couldn’t be dazzling enough for skywatchers — what with the total solar eclipse, the return of the ‘devil comet,’ and a chance at stunning shows of the northern lights — astronomers believe we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a ‘new’ star.

NASA reported earlier this year that a star system, some 3,000 light-years away from us, will erupt, making it appear as if a "new" star has formed near the constellation Hercules. 

Technically, the star — T Coronae Borealis, or T CrB — isn’t newly formed. In fact, the last time it became bright enough for us to see with the naked eye was in 1946. Roughly every 79 years, T CrB experiences an explosive event, Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office Lead at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, told Nexstar via email. 

What is T CrB?

T CrB, sometimes known as the Blaze Star, “is one of 10 recurring novae in the galaxy,” he added. 

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“Novae (the plural of nova) are binary star systems consisting of a normal or red giant star and a white dwarf about the size of the Earth,” Cooke explained. “The larger star is dumping material onto the surface of its white dwarf companion; as material accumulates, the temperature keeps rising until a thermonuclear runaway is initiated.”

Tracking a star from this far away (remember, it’s roughly 3,000 light-years into space) can be difficult, but astronomers have a general idea of when T CrB will “go nova.”

When will we see this "new star?"

According to Cooke, just over a year before T CrB’s 1946 explosion, the star got dimmer. It then rapidly got brighter. Astronomers noted that T CrB started dimming in March 2023, causing many to forecast that the star will explode sometime between now and September.

“But the uncertainty as to when this will happen is several months or even a year or so – can’t do better than that with what we know now,” Cooke said.

Where will it appear, and what will it look like?

When it does reach nova status, T CrB will look like a “new star” to us on Earth (nova comes from the Latin for “new star”), shimmering in the constellation of Corona Borealis, or “The Northern Crown.”

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You’ll find Corona Borealis between the constellations of Hercules and Boötes, located toward the north. More specifically, according to the guide below from NASA, it’ll be roughly in line with Vega and Arcturus. 

A conceptual image of how to find Hercules and his mighty globular clusters in the sky created using a planetarium software. Look up after sunset during summer months to find Hercules! Scan between Vega and Arcturus, near the distinct pattern of Corona Borealis. Once you find its stars, use binoculars or a telescope to hunt down the globular clusters M13 and M92. If you enjoy your views of these globular clusters, you’re in luck – look for another great globular, M3, in the nearby constellation of Boötes. Credit: NASA

Cooke said T CrB will be as bright as the North Star, meaning it’ll be visible to the naked eye — but only for about a week. With the exception of those in Antarctica, everyone should be able to get a glimpse of the nova. 

The last time skywatchers had a chance to see a nova like this was nearly 50 years ago, when Nova Cygni shimmered in 1975. As for now, T CrB hasn’t yet reached its peak, though NASA has ground-based telescopes keeping an eye on it.

When you are finally able to see it, just remember — as NPR notes, the explosion we’re seeing really happened 3,000 years ago.

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