Historical observations offer clues to the fate of feeding white dwarfs
Some stars erupt like clockwork. Astronomers have tracked down a star that Korean astronomers saw explode nearly 600 years ago and confirmed that it has had more outbursts since. The finding suggests that what were thought to be three different stellar objects actually came from the same object at different times, offering new clues to the life cycles of stars.
On March 11, 1437, Korean royal astronomers saw a new “guest star” in the tail of the constellation Scorpius. The star glowed for 14 days, then faded. The event was what’s known as a classical nova explosion, which occurs when a dense stellar corpse called a white dwarf steals enough material from an ordinary companion star for its gas to spontaneously ignite. The resulting explosion can be up to a million times as bright as the sun, but unlike supernovas, classical novas don’t destroy the star.