At least once a second, a dim, elderly star somewhere in the cosmos turns into a thermonuclear bomb. Briefly outshining its home galaxy, the explosion, known as a type 1a supernova, unleashes the equivalent of 1028 megatons of TNT — enough energy to destroy an entire solar system.
Astronomers have marveled at these cosmic firecrackers for centuries. But so far nobody has explained in detail how these supernovas explode. Now, theorists are on the verge of attaining that understanding — and just in time, because astronomers are observing type 1a supernovas with a new urgency. In fact, the story these stars have to tell is a matter of cosmic life and death.
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