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Peeks into early life of supernovas show how to blow up a star

Dueling studies reveal two ways to trigger stellar explosions

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1:00pm, May 20, 2015
Supernova

FLASH OF LIGHT  Type 1a supernovas, such as the one seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image, can be triggered in at least two different ways, new research shows.

There’s more than one way to explode a star. Four recently seen type 1a supernovas show off some of this diversity. One supernova hints at the gas of a partner star fueling the explosion; colliding white dwarfs — the exposed cores of dead stars — probably triggered the other three.

The observations, described in a pair of papers in the May 21 Nature, give astronomers a rare look at the first few days of a stellar detonation.

Shrapnel from supernova iPTF14atg appeared to run into another star within hours of the explosion, Yi Cao, an astrophysicist at Caltech, and colleagues report. The presence of this close stellar partner supports the idea that a relatively large star provoked a white dwarf to explode. The companion star may have dumped its gas on the white dwarf until the added weight sparked a thermonuclear detonation.

The blast of gas then slammed into the companion

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