What Sparked Star Explosion 2014J? NASA Telescope Seeks Clues

by Elizabeth Howell on August 15, 2014

Astronomers are gazing closely at supernova 2014J (inset) to see what sort of triggers caused the star explosion. Credit: NASA/SAO/CXC/R. Margutti et al

Astronomers are gazing closely at supernova 2014J (inset) to see what sort of triggers caused the star explosion. Credit: NASA/SAO/CXC/R. Margutti et al

X marks the spot: after probing the area where a star used to be, in X-rays, astronomers have been able to rule out one cause for the supernova explosion.

Because the Chandra X-Ray Observatory did not detect anything unusual in X-rays, astronomers say this means that a white dwarf was not responsible for pulling off material from a massive star that exploded (from Earth’s vantage point) on Jan. 21, 2014, triggering excitement from professional and amateur astronomers alike.

“While it may sound a bit odd, we actually learned a great deal about this supernova by detecting absolutely nothing,” stated study leader Raffaella Margutti of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Massachusetts. “Now we can essentially rule out that the explosion was caused by a white dwarf continuously pulling material from a companion star.”

So what caused it? Possibly two white dwarfs merged instead. Follow-up observations will take place in Messier 88 and the source of the explosion, which was about 12 million light-years from Earth. While that’s a long time by human standards, astronomers point out that is close on the cosmic distance scale.

A study on this work was recently published in The Astrophysical Journal. You can read a preprint version of the article here.

Source: NASA

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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