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Chasing a stellar blast

3:18pm, February 27, 2006

An exploding star recently discovered in a nearby galaxy may be a milestone in the study of type 1a supernovas.

In this past decade, astronomers have used these stellar explosions, produced when an elderly star called a white dwarf blows up, to determine that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. But despite the importance of these events, no one knows exactly how white dwarfs explode.

Because the newfound supernova, dubbed SN 2006X, erupted in a nearby, highly studied galaxy, it could provide a wealth of information. Amateur astronomers in Japan and Italy independently found the supernova on Feb. 4. At the time of the discovery, the supernova was only one-thousandth as bright as its home galaxy, Messier 100, which lies about 60 million light-years from Earth. But over the next 2 weeks, the supernova's glow increased 25-fold.

Using the Very Large Telescope in Paranal, Chile, Dietrich Baade of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, and

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