Astronomers are witnessing the fastest stellar explosion ever recorded

Astronomers are witnessing the fastest stellar explosion ever recorded

TEMPE, Ariz. – A star in space gives new meaning to the saying “here today, away tomorrow.” Astronomers have seen the fastest stellar explosion ever recorded from Earth.

They saw when the white dwarf “stole” gas from a nearby red giant, which triggered one of the largest explosions ever seen – which scientists call a nova. Novan was bright enough for people to see with binoculars around the world. But this stellar event lasted just over a day, which is up to three times faster than anyone else so far.

Materials are launched into space at speeds of millions of miles per hour, which we observe as visible light. Named V1674 Herculesnova was visible to the naked eye for just over 24 hours before it “whizzed out”.

Lead author Professor Sumner Starrfield of Arizona State University says that the incident on June 12, 2021, resembled someone turning on and off a flashlight. Novor differs from supernovae. They occur in binary star systems, where small and incredibly dense stars orbit much larger sun-like companions.

Gas that is removed from the latter spirals down to the surface of the former, like water down a bathtub drain. Heated and compressed by gravity, the hydrogen melts together and explodes like a thermonuclear bomb.

“It was only about a day, and the previous fastest nova was one we studied back in 1991, the V838 Herculis, which dropped in about two or three days,” says Professor Starrfield in a university publishing.

Novan “rings” still in space

The study provides new insight into the chemistry of our solar system, the death of stars and the evolution of the universe. Nova’s speed was not its only unusual feature. The light and energy that is sent out also pulsates as the sound of an echoing bell.

Every 501 seconds, a wobble is detected in visible light waves and X-rays. It remains a year later and will continue even longer.

“The most unusual thing is that this oscillation was seen before the eruption, but it was also obvious when the nova was about 10 magnitudes brighter,” said Mark Wagner, head of science at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory. “A mystery that people are trying to wrestle with is what drives this periodicity that you would see it over that brightness of the system.”

The team also noticed a strange wind when they were monitoring matter pushed out of the nova. It may depend on the positions of the white dwarf and its companions. They seem to shape the flow of material into space that surrounds the system that lay in the constellation Hercules.

It is very conveniently located, in a dark sky to the east when dusk subsides after sunset. As this places it less than 17 ° north of the celestial equator, it is therefore visible all over the world.

Is this how our solar system was formed?

Novae can tell you important information about our solar system and even the universe as a whole. Scientists believe that about 30 to 60 occur each year in the Milky Way galaxy, although they only discover about 10 during that time. Most are obscured by interstellar dust.

A white dwarf collects and changes matter and then spices up the surrounding space with new material when it becomes nova. It is an important part of the cycle of matter in space. The material ejected by novae will eventually form new star systems. Such events also helped to form our solar system, which ensured that the earth is more than a lump of coal.

“We always try to find out how the solar system was formed, where the chemical elements in the solar system came from,” says Professor Starrfield. “One of the things we will learn from this nova is, for example, how much lithium was produced by this explosion. We are pretty sure now that a significant portion of the lithium we have on earth was produced by this type of explosions. “

Sometimes a white dwarf star does not lose all its collected material during a nova explosion, so with each cycle it gains mass. This would eventually make it unstable, and the white dwarf could generate a “type 1a” supernova, which is one of the brightest events in the universe. Each type 1a supernova reaches the same level of brightness, so they are known as standard light.

“Standard lights are so bright that we can see them at great distances across the universe. By looking at how the brightness of light changes, we can ask questions about how the universe accelerates or about the overall three-dimensional structure of the universe,” says co-author Professor Charles Woodward of the University of Minnesota “This is one of the interesting reasons why we are studying some of these systems.”

Discovered by an amateur

In addition, novas can tell more about how stars in binary systems evolve, a process that is not well understood by astronomers. They also function as living laboratories where researchers can see nuclear physics in action and test theoretical concepts. Novan surprised the world of astronomy. It was not on the scientists’ radar until an amateur astronomer from Japan, Seidji Ueda, discovered and reported it.

Citizen researchers are playing an increasingly important role in astronomy, as well as modern technology. The nova described in Research notes from the American Astronomical Society is now too weak for other types of telescopes to see. However, it can still be monitored by the large binocular telescope thanks to its wide aperture and state-of-the-art scanners.

Prof. Starrfield and colleagues are now planning to investigate the cause, the processes that led to it, the cause of its record decline, the forces behind the observed wind and the pulsating brightness.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.


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