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What Sparked Star Explosion 2014J? NASA Telescope Seeks Clues

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tihomir August 15, 2014, 6:26 PM

    “Follow-up observations will take place in Messier 88…”
    I guess you mean Messier 82, right?

  • weeasle August 18, 2014, 9:08 AM

    Interesting.. So if I understood correctly a Type IA supernova was ruled out (a white dwarf pulling material off a larger or equal sized companion until reaching a critical mass and detonating)…

    After reading wikipedia I learned that type 1A supernovas are thought to have xray shells due to the progenitor star’s shell being blown outwards (a planetary nebula)… The wiki entry for Type 1A also mentions about white dwarf mergers (double degenerate progenitors):

    Double degenerate scenarios raise questions about the applicability of Type Ia supernovae as standard candles, since total mass of the two merging white dwarfs varies significantly, meaning luminosity also varies.

    Any further comments by scientists on this appreciated – I am very interested to learn more and look forward to results of future studies since standard candles are so important to modern cosmology…

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