‘Cosmic Zombie’ Star Triggered This Explosion In Nearby Galaxy

It might be a bad idea to get close to dead stars. Like a White Walker from Game of Thrones, this “cosmic zombie” white dwarf star was dangerous even though it was just a corpse of a star like our own. The result from this violence is still visible in the Spitzer Space Telescope picture you see above.

Astronomers believe the giant star was shedding material (a common phenomenon in older stars), which fell on to the white dwarf star. As the gas built up on the white dwarf over time, the mass became unstable and the dwarf exploded. What’s left is still lying in a pool of gas about 160,000 light-years away from us.

“It’s kind of like being a detective,” stated Brian Williams of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who led the research. “We look for clues in the remains to try to figure out what happened, even though we weren’t there to see it.”

This explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud — one of the closest satellite galaxies to Earth — is known as a Type 1a supernova, but it’s a rare breed of that kind. Type 1as are best known as “standard candles” because their explosions have a consistent luminosity. Knowing how luminous the supernova type is allows astronomers to estimate distance based on its apparent brightness; the fainter the supernova is, the further away it is.

Most Type 1as happen when two orbiting white dwarfs smash into each other, but this scenario is more akin to something that Earthlings saw in 1604. Informally called Kepler’s supernova, because it was discovered by astronomer Johannes Kepler, astronomers believe this arose from a red giant and white dwarf interaction. The evidence left for this conclusion showed the supernova leftovers embedded in dust and gas.

Investigators have submitted their results to the Astrophysical Journal.

Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Possible Nova Pops in Cygnus

A newly-discovered star of magnitude +10.9 has flared to life in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Koichi Nishiyama and Fujio Kabashima, both of Japan, made their discovery yesterday March 31 with a 105mm f/4 camera lens and electronic camera. They quickly confirmed the observation with additional photos taken with a 0.40-m (16-inch) reflector. Nothing was seen down to magnitude +13.4  in photos taken the on the 27th, but when they checked through images made on March 30 the star present at +12.4. Good news – it’s getting brighter!

This more detailed map, showing stars to mag. 10.5, will help you pinpoint the star. Stellarium
This more detailed map, showing stars to mag. 10.5, will help you pinpoint the star. Its coordinates are R.A. 20h 21m 42, declination +31 o3′. Stellarium

While the possible nova will need confirmation, nova lovers may want to begin observing the star as soon as possible. Novae can brighten quickly, sometimes by several magnitudes in just a day. These maps should help you hone in on the star which rises around midnight and becomes well placed for viewing around 1:30-2 a.m. local time in the eastern sky. At the moment, it will require a 4-inch or larger telescope to see, but I’m crossing my fingers we’ll see it brighten further.

Novae occur in close binary systems where one star is a tiny but extremely compact white dwarf star. The dwarf pulls material into a disk around itself, some of which is funneled to the surface and ignites in a nova explosion. Credit: NASA
Novae occur in close binary systems where one star is a tiny but extremely compact white dwarf star. The dwarf pulls material into a disk around itself, some of which is funneled to the surface and ignites in a nova explosion. Credit: NASA

To see a nova is to witness a cataclysm. Astronomers – mostly amateurs – discover about 10 a year in our Milky Way galaxy. Many more would be seen were it not for dust clouds and distance. All involve close binary stars where a tiny but extremely dense white dwarf star steals gas from its companion. The gas ultimately funnels down to the 150,000 degree surface of the dwarf where it’s compacted by gravity and heated to high temperature until it ignites in an explosive fireball. If you’ve ever wondered what a million nuclear warheads would look like detonated all at once, cast your gaze at a nova.

Novae can rise in brightness from 7 to 16 magnitudes, the equivalent of 50,000 to 100,000 times brighter than the sun, in just a few days. Meanwhile the gas they expel in the blast travels away from the binary at up to 2,000 miles per second.

One of the key diagnostics for nova identification is the appearance of deep red light in its spectrum called hydrogen alpha or H-alpha. Italian astronomer obtained this spectrum of the possible nova on April 1. Credit: Gianluca Masi
Emission of deep red light called hydrogen alpha or H-alpha is often diagnostic of a nova. When in the fireball phase, the star is hidden by a fiery cloud of rosy hydrogen gas and expanding debris cloud. Italian astronomer obtained this spectrum of the possible nova on April 1 showing H-alpha emission. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Nishiyama and Kabashima are on something of a hot streak. If confirmed, this would be their third nova discovery in a month! On March 8, they discovered Nova Cephei 2014 at magnitude 11.7 (it’s currently around 12th magnitude) and 10th magnitude Nova Scorpii 2014 (now at around 12.5) on March 26. Impressive.

Photo showing the possible nova in Cygnus. The star is described as being tinted red. Credit: Gianluca Masi
Photo showing the possible nova in Cygnus. The star is described as being tinted red. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Charts for the two older discoveries are available on the AAVSO website. Type in either Nova Cep 2014 or TCP J17154683-3128303 (for Nova Scorpii)  in the Star finder box and click Create a finder chart. I’ll update this article as soon as a chart for the new object is posted.

** UPDATE April 2, 2014: This star has been confirmed as a nova. You can print out a chart by going to the AAVSO website and following the instructions above using Nova Cyg 2014 for the star name. On April 2.4 UT, I observed the nova at magnitude 11.o.

Rocky Alien Planet Leftovers ‘Polluted’ White Dwarf Stars With Metal

Artist’s impression of a massive asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Earth's water may not have all come from asteroids and comets, so maybe that's true for exoplanets. Credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech / T. Pyle (SSC)

What’s with all the metals in the atmosphere of white dwarfs, those things that are corpses of stars like our own Sun? While before scientists had theories about levitating star layers that “polluted” the white dwarfs, new research shows it’s more likely due to rocky material. More specifically, material left over from planet formation.

Researchers surveyed 89 of these objects with the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, a NASA space telescope which operated from 1999 to 2008. The stars’ spectra was analyzed to see what distinctive wavelengths of elements showed up.

Scientists discovered that in one-third of these stars, the ratio of silicon to carbon material is pretty close to what is seen in rocks, and is much higher than what would be expected in stars. The work implies that only a fraction of stars like our Sun would have terrestrial planets, researchers added.

Artist’s impression of debris around a white dwarf star. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, and G. Bacon (STScI)
Artist’s impression of debris around a white dwarf star. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, and G. Bacon (STScI)

“The mystery of the composition of these stars is a problem we have been trying to solve for more than 20 years,” stated Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester, who led the research.

“It is exciting to realize that they are swallowing up the leftovers from planetary systems, perhaps like our own, with the prospect that more detailed follow-up work will be able to tell us about the composition of rocky planets orbiting other stars.”

You can read more about the research in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The research team includes Barstow’s daughter, Jo, who was doing a summer work placement in Leicester at the time. She is now working at Oxford University in the field of extrasolar planets.

Source: Royal Astronomical Society

How Do You Jumpstart A Dead Star?

It’s a staple of science fiction, restarting our dying star with some kind of atomic superbomb. Why is our Sun running out of fuel, and what can we actually do to get it restarted?

Stars die. Occasionally threatening the Earth and its civilization in a variety plot devices in science fiction. Fortunately there’s often a Bruce Willis coming in to save the day, delivering a contraption, possibly riding a giant bomb shaped like a spaceship, to the outer proximity of our dying Sun that magically fixes the broken star and all humanity is saved.

Is there any truth in this idea? If our Sun dies, can we just crack out a giant solar defibrillator and shock it back into life? Not exactly.

First, let’s review at how stars die. Our Sun is halfway through its life. It’s been going for about 4.5 billion years, and in 5 billion years it’ll use up all the hydrogen in its core, bloat up as a red giant, puff off its outer layers and collapse down into a white dwarf.

Is there a point in there, anywhere, that we could get it back to acting like a sun? Technically? Yes. Did you know it will only use up a fraction of its fuel during its lifetime? Only in the core of the Sun are the temperatures and pressures high enough for fusion reactions to take place. This region extends out to roughly 25% of the radius, which only makes up about 2% of the volume.

Outside the core is the radiative zone, where fusion doesn’t take place. Here, the only way gamma radiation can escape is to be absorbed and radiated countless times, until it reaches the next layer of the Sun: the convective zone. Here temperatures have dropped to the point that the whole region acts like a giant lava lamp. Huge blobs of superheated stellar plasma rise up within the star and release their energy into space. This radiative zone acts like a wall, keeping the potential fuel in the convective zone away from the fusion furnace.

Cutaway to the Interior of the Sun. Credit: NASA
Cutaway to the Interior of the Sun. Credit: NASA

So, if you could connect the convective zone to the solar core, you’d be able to keep mixing up the material in the Sun. The core of the Sun would be able to efficiently fuse all the hydrogen in the star.

Sound crazy? Interestingly, this already happens in our Universe. For red dwarf stars with less than 35% the mass of the Sun, their convective zones connect directly to the core of the star. This is why these stars can last for hundreds of billions and even trillions of years. They will efficiently use up all the hydrogen in the entire star thanks to the mixing of the convective zone. If we could create a method to break through the radiative zone and get that fresh hydrogen into the core of the Sun, we could keep basking in its golden tanning rays for well past its current expiration date.

I never said it would be easy. It would take stellar engineering at a colossal scale to overcome the equilibrium of the star. A future civilization with an incomprehensible amount of energy and stellar engineering ability might be able to convert our one star into a collection of fully convective red dwarf stars. And these could sip away their hydrogen for trillions of years.

Tell us in the comments on how you think we should go about it. My money is on giant ‘magic bullet’ blender” or a perhaps a Dyson solar juicer.

What Is The Future Of Our Sun?

Who knows what the future holds for our Sun? Dr. Mark Morris, a professor of astronomy at UCLA sure knows. Professor Morris sat down with us to let us know what we’re in for over the next few billions years.

“Hi, I’m Professor Mark Morris. I’m teaching at UCLA where I also carry out my research. I work on the center of the galaxy and what’s going on there – in this fabulous arena there, and on dying stars – stars that have reached the end of their lifetime and are putting on a display for us as they do so.”

What is the future of our sun?

“Well, there’s every expectation that in about 5 billion more years, that our sun will swell up to become a red giant. And then, as it gets larger and larger, it will eventually become what’s called an asymptotic giant branch star – a star whose radius is just under the distance between the sun and the Earth – one astronomical unit in size. So the Earth will be literally skimming the surface of the red giant sun when it’s an asymptotic giant branch star.”

“A star that big is also cool because they’re cold – red hot versus blue hot or yellow hot like our sun. Because it’s cold, a red giant star at its surface layers can keep all of its elements in the gas phase. So some of the heavier elements – the metals and the silicates – condense out as small dust grains, and when these elements condense out as solids, then radiation pressure from this very luminous giant star pushes the dust grains out. That may seem like a minor issue, but in fact these dust grains carry the gas with them. And so the star literally expels its atmosphere, and goes from a red giant star to a white dwarf, when finally the core of the star is exposed. Now, as it’s doing this, that hot core of the star is still very luminous and lights up through a fluorescent process, this out-flowing envelope, this atmosphere that was once a star, and that’s what produces these beautiful displays that are called planetary nebulae.”

“Now, planetary nebulae can be these beautiful round, spherical objects, or they can be bipolar, which is one of the mysteries that we’re working here is trying to understand why, at some stage, a star suddenly becomes axisymmetric – in other words, is sending out is’s atmosphere in two diametrically opposed directions predominantly, rather than continuing to lose mass spherically.”

Planetary Nebula
Planetary Nebula M2-9 (Credit: Bruce Balick (University of Washington), Vincent Icke (Leiden University, The Netherlands), Garrelt Mellema (Stockholm University), and NASA)

“We can’t invoke rotation of the star – that would be one way to get a preferred axis, but stars don’t rotate fast enough. If you take the sun and let it expand to become a red giant, then by the conservation of angular momentum, it literally won’t be spinning at all. It’ll be spinning so slowly that it’ll literally have no effect. So we can’t invoke spin, so there must be something going on deep down inside the star, that when you finally expose some rapidly spinning core, it can have an effect.”

“Or, all of the stars that we see as planetary nebula can have binary companions, that could be massive planets or relatively low mass stars that themselves can impose an angular momentum orientation on the system. This is in fact an idea that I’ve been championing for decades now, and it has some traction. There’s a lot of planetary nebula nuclei, the white dwarves, that seem to have companions near them that are suspect for having been responsible for helping strip the atmosphere of the mass-losing red giant star but also providing a preferred axis along which the ejected matter can flow.”

Will The Sun Explode?

All stars die, some more violently than others.

Once our own Sun has consumed all the hydrogen fuel in its core, it too will reach the end of its life. Astronomers estimate this to be a short 7 billion years from now. For a few million years, it will expand into a red giant, puffing away its outer layers. Then it’ll collapse down into a white dwarf and slowly cool down to the background temperature of the Universe.

I’m sure you know that some other stars explode when they die. They also run out of fuel in their core, but instead of becoming a red giant, they detonate in a fraction of a second as a supernova.

So, what’s the big difference between stars like our Sun and the stars that can explode as supernovae?

Mass. That’s it.

Supernova progenitors – these stars capable of becoming supernovae – are extremely massive, at least 8 to 12 times the mass of our Sun. When a star this big runs out of fuel, its core collapses. In a fraction of a second, material falls inward to creating an extremely dense neutron star or even a black hole. This process releases an enormous amount of energy, which we see as a supernova.

If a star has even more mass, beyond 140 times the mass of the Sun, it explodes completely and nothing remains at all. If these other stars can detonate like this, is it possible for our Sun to explode?

Could there be some chain reaction we could set off, some exotic element a rare comet could introduce on impact, or a science fiction doomsday ray we could fire up to make the Sun explode?

Nope, quite simply, it just doesn’t have enough mass. The only way this could ever happen is if it was much, much more massive, bringing it to that lower supernovae limit.

In other words, you would need to crash an equally massive star into our Sun. And then do it again, and again.. and again… another half dozen more times. Then, and only then would you have an object massive enough to detonate as a supernova.

We don't have to worry about our sun exploding into a supernova.
We don’t have to worry about our sun exploding into a supernova.

Now, I’m sure you’re all resting easy knowing that solar detonation is near the bottom of the planetary annihilation list. I’ve got even better news. Not only will this never happen to the Sun, but there are no large stars close enough to cause us any damage if they did explode.
A supernova would need to go off within a distance of 100 light-years to irradiate our planet.

According to Dr. Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy, the closest star that could detonate as a supernova is the 10 solar mass Spica, at a distance of 260 light-years. No where near close enough to cause us any danger.

So don’t worry about our Sun exploding or another nearby star going supernova and wiping us out. You can put your feet up and relax, as it’s just not going to happen.

Bright New Nova In Delphinus — You can See it Tonight With Binoculars

Looking around for something new to see in your binoculars or telescope tonight? How about an object whose name literally means “new”. Japanese amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata discovered an apparent nova or “new star” in the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin just today, August 14. He used a small 7-inch (.18-m) reflecting telescope and CCD camera to nab it. Let’s hope its mouthful of a temporary designation, PNVJ20233073+2046041, is soon changed to Nova Delphini 2013!

th_gif_1531x1459_2db958_zps3f68f105

This map shows Delphinus and Sagitta, both of which are near the bright star Altair at the bottom of the Summer Triangle. You can star hop from the Delphinus "diamond" to the star 29 Vulpecula and from there to the nova or center your binoculars between Eta Sagittae and 29 Vul. Stellarium
This map shows Delphinus and Sagitta, both of which are near the bright star Altair at the bottom of the Summer Triangle. You can star hop from the top of Delphinus to the star 29 Vulpeculae and from there to the nova.  Or you can point your binoculars midway between Eta Sagittae and 29 Vul. The “5.7 star” is magnitude 5.7. Stellarium

Several hours later it was confirmed as a new object shining at magnitude 6.8 just under the naked eye limit. This is bright especially considering that nothing was visible at the location down to a dim 13th magnitude only a day before discovery. How bright it will get is hard to know yet, but variable star observer Patrick Schmeer of Germany got his eyes on it this evening and estimated the new object at magnitude 6.0. That not only puts it within easy reach of all binoculars but right at the naked eye limit for observers under dark skies. Wow! Since it appears to have been discovered on day one of the outburst, my hunch is that it will brighten even further.

I opened up the view a little more here and made a reverse "black stars on white" for clarity. Stars are shown to 9th magnitude. Magnitudes shown for 4 stars near the nova. The nova's precise position is RA 20 h 23' 31", Dec. +20 deg. 46'. Created with Chris Marriott's SkyMap
Here’s a reverse “black stars on white” map some observers prefer for greater clarity. Stars are shown to 9th magnitude. Tycho visual magnitudes shown for 4 stars near the nova. The nova’s precise position is RA 20 h 23′ 31″, Dec. +20 deg. 46′. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap

The only way to know is to go out for a look. I’ve prepared a couple charts you can use to help you find and follow our new guest. The charts show stars down to about 9th magnitude, the limit for 50mm binoculars under dark skies. The numbers on the chart are magnitudes (with decimals omitted, thus 80 = 8.0 magnitude) so you can approximate its brightness and follow the ups and downs of the star’s behavior in the coming nights.

Despite the name, a nova is not truly new but an explosion on a star otherwise too faint for anyone to have noticed.  A nova occurs in a close binary star system, where a small but extremely dense and massive (for its size) white dwarf  grabs hydrogen gas from its closely orbiting companion. After swirling about in a disk around the dwarf, it’s funneled down to the star’s 150,000 degree F surface where gravity compacts and heats the gas until it detonates like a bazillion thermonuclear bombs. Suddenly, a faint star that wasn’t on anyone’s radar vaults a dozen magnitudes to become a standout “new star”.

Model of a nova in the making. A white dwarf star pulls matter from its bloated red giant companion into a whirling disk. Material funnels to the surface where it later explodes. Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss
Model of a nova in the making. A white dwarf star pulls matter from its bloated red giant companion into a whirling disk. Material funnels to the surface where it later explodes. Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

Novae can rise in brightness from 7 to 16 magnitudes, the equivalent of 50,000 to 100,000 times brighter than the sun, in just a few days. Meanwhile the gas they expel in the blast travels away from the binary at up to 2,000 miles per second. This one big boom! Unlike a supernova explosion, the star survives, perhaps to “go nova” again someday.

Closer view yet showing a circle with a field of view of about 2 degrees. Stellarium
Closer view yet of the apparent nova showing a circle with a field of view of about 2 degrees. Stellarium

I’ll update with links to other charts in the coming day or two, so check back.

See info on the Remanzacco Observatory website about their followup images of the nova.

Why Are Dying Stars in 47 Tucanae Cooling Off So Slowly?

White Dwarf Star

The Hubble Space Telescope is going to be used to settle an argument. It’s a conflict between computer models and what astronomers are seeing in a group of stars in 47 Tucanae.

White dwarfs — the dying embers of stars who have burnt off all their fuel — are cooling off slower than expected in this southern globular cluster, according to previous observations with the telescope’s Wide Field Camera and Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Puzzled astronomers are now going to widen that search in 47 Tucanae (which initially focused on a few hundred objects) to 5,000 white dwarfs. They do have some theories as to what might be happening, though.

White dwarfs, stated lead astronomer Ryan Goldsbury from the University of British Columbia, have several factors that chip in to the cooling rate:

The Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA, tweaked by D. Majaess.

– High-energy particle production from the white dwarfs;

– What their cores are made up of;

– What their atmospheres are made up of;

– Processes that bring energy from the core to the surface.

Somewhere, somehow, perhaps one of those factors is off.

This kind of thing is common in science, as astronomers create these programs according to the best educated guesses they can make with respect to the data in front of them. When the two sides don’t jive, they do more observations to refine the model.

“The cause of this difference is not yet understood, but it is clear that there is a discrepancy between the data and the models,” stated the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) and the University of British Columbia in a press release.

Since the white dwarfs are in a cluster that presumably formed from the same cloud of gas, it allows astronomers to look at a group of stars at a similar distance and to determine the distribution of masses of stars within the cluster.

“Because all of the white dwarfs in their study come from a single well-studied star cluster, both of these bits of information can be independently determined,” the release added.

You can read the entire article on the previous Hubble research on 47 Tucanae at the Astrophysical Journal.

Today’s announcement took place during the annual meeting of CASCA, which is held this year in Vancouver.

Source: CASCA/UBC

Famed Pair of Stars Closer To Earth Than We Imagined

If you’re a semi-serious amateur astronomer, chances are you’ve heard of a variable pair of stars called SS Cygni. When you watch the system for long enough, you’re rewarded with a brightness outburst that then fades away and then returns, regularly, over and over again.

Turns out this bright pair is even closer to us than we imagined — 370 light-years away, to be precise.

Before we get into how this was discovered, a bit of background on what SS Cygni is. As the name of the system implies, it’s in the constellation of Cygnus (the Swan). The pair consists of a cooling white dwarf star that is locked in a 6.6-hour orbit with a red dwarf.

The white dwarf’s gravity, which is much stronger than that of the red dwarf, is bleeding material from its neighbor. This interaction causes outbursts — on average, about once every 50 days.

Previously, the Hubble Space Telescope put the distance to these stars much further away, at 520 light-years. But that caused some head-scratching among astronomers.

Hubble Against Earth's Horizon (1997)
Hubble Against Earth’s Horizon (1997)

“That was a problem. At that distance, SS Cygni would have been the brightest dwarf nova in the sky, and should have had enough mass moving through its disk to remain stable without any outbursts,” stated James Miller-Jones, of the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Perth, Australia.

Astronomers call SS Cygni a dwarf nova. When comparing it to similar systems, astronomers said the outbursts happen as matter changes its flow speed through the disc of material surrounding the white dwarf.

“At high rates of mass transfer from the red dwarf, the rotating disk remains stable, but when the rate is lower, the disk can become unstable and undergo an outburst,” stated the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. So what was happening?

A star's distance is measured by observing a slight shift in position that occurs, from Earth's perspective, on opposite sides of our planet's orbit. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF
A star’s distance is measured by observing a slight shift in position that occurs, from Earth’s perspective, on opposite sides of our planet’s orbit. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

To again look at the distance of the star, astronomers used two sets of radio telescopes, the Very Large Baseline Array and the European VLBI Network. Each set has a bunch of telescopes working together as an interferometer, allowing for precise measurements of star distances.

Scientists then took measurements at opposite ends of the Earth’s orbit, using the planet itself as a tool. By measuring the star’s distance at opposite sides of the orbit, we can calculate its parallax or apparent movement in the sky from the perspective of Earth. It’s an old astronomical tool used to pin down distances, and still works.

“This is one of the best-studied systems of its type, but according to our understanding of how these things work, it should not have been having outbursts. The new distance measurement brings it into line with the standard explanation,” stated Miller-Jones.

And where did Hubble go wrong? Here’s the theory:

“The radio observations were made against a background of objects far beyond our own Milky Way Galaxy, while the Hubble observations used stars within our galaxy as reference points,” NRAO stated. “The more-distant objects provide a better, more stable, reference.”

The results were published in Science on May 24.

Source: National Radio Astronomy Observatory

The Rosy Remains of a Star’s Final Days

Stars like our Sun can last for a very long time (in human terms, anyway!) somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 billion years. Already over 4.6 billion years old, the Sun is entering middle age and will keep on happily fusing hydrogen into helium for quite some time. But eventually even stars come to the end of their lives, and their deaths are some of the most powerful — and beautiful — events in the Universe.

The wispy, glowing red structures above are the remains of a white dwarf in the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud 150,000 light-years away. Supernova remnant SNR 0519 was created about 600 years ago (by our time) when a star like the Sun, in the final stages of its life, gathered enough material from a companion to reach a critical mass and then explode, casting its outer layers far out into space to create the cosmic rose we see today.

As the hydrogen material from the star plows outwards through interstellar space it becomes ionized, glowing bright red.

SNR 0519 is the result of a Type Ia supernova, which are the result of one white dwarf within a binary pair drawing material onto itself from the other until it undergoes a core-collapse and blows apart violently. The binary pair can be two white dwarfs or a white dwarf and another type of star, such as a red giant, but at least one white dwarf is thought to always be the progenitor.

Read more: A New Species of Type Ia Supernova?

A recent search into the heart of the remnant found no surviving post-main sequence stars, suggesting that SNR 0519 was created by two white dwarfs rather than a mismatched pair. Both stars were likely destroyed in the explosion, as any non-degenerate partner would have remained.

Read more here.

This image was chosen as ESA/Hubble’s Picture of the Week. See the full-sized version here.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Claude Cornen