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Astronomers witness a new type of stellar explosion, solving a long-standing mystery

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Supernova 2018zd is the first example of a new type of supernova.

Joseph Depasquale, STScI

Just when you think we know a lot about the stars above, something pops up and illuminates them even more. Literally, in this case, thanks to the observation of a new type of supernova. The discovery has interesting implications for a mysterious bright light that appeared in the sky in 1054.

Published in Nature astronomy On Monday, a report from an international team of scientists confirms a type of stellar explosion never seen before. Before the find, it was thought that there were only two types of supernova: a core collapse supernova (which occurs when a massive star runs out of fuel and its core collapses into a black hole or neutron star) and a thermonuclear supernova (which occurs when a white dwarf star explodes).

However, since the 1980s there has been speculation that another type might exist. Ken’ichi Nomoto of the University of Tokyo predicted a third type called an “electron capture supernova” in 1980. This refers to supernovae that arise from a shortage of fuel, which then had gravitational electrons in the atomic nuclei of the nucleus, thus collapsing into itself.

Evidence for an electron-capturing supernova implies that huge stars lose much of their mass before exploding. The mass in question must have an unusual chemical composition. After the supernova, there should be minimal radioactive fallout and the nucleus should have neutron-rich elements.

Spectral analysis of a supernova, originally detected in March 2018, provides new evidence for the theory of an electron-capturing supernova. Nicknamed “Supernova 2018zd”, there are several key factors that suggest its electron-trapping nature: it showed a large amount of its mass loss before exploding, has an unusual chemical composition, produced a weak explosion, shows little radioactivity, and leaves behind a neutron. . -Rich core.

Understandably pleased to see his theory gain weight, Nomoto commented on the development and contributed to the article.

“I’m very glad that the electron capture supernova was finally discovered, which my colleagues and I predicted existed and had a connection to the Crab Nebula 40 years ago. This is a wonderful case of combining observations and theory.” , He said. saying.


This is a composite image of the Crab Nebula, which has long been posited as the result of an electron-capturing supernova.

NASA, ESA, NRAO / AUI / NSF and G. Dubner (University of Buenos Aires)

The Crab Nebula Link

One of the brightest mysteries in supernova history, the origins of the Crab Nebula have long remained unexplained. It is believed that a supernova occurred in the Milky Way in 1054 AD. Historical accounts claim that it was so bright that it could be seen during the day for 23 days and at night for almost two years. Today its remains are known as the Crab Nebula.

Despite being studied extensively, determining whether the Nebula was likely the result of an electron-capturing supernova was tricky, largely because the explosion was nearly a thousand years ago.

However, with this new supernova discovery, it is believed that we can more confidently state that the Crab Nebula is the result of an electron-capturing supernova.

Dr. Andrew Howell, leader of the Global Supernova Project and a staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory, said: “This supernova is literally helping us to decode millennial records of cultures around the world. And it is helping us to associate something we don’t do.” . I don’t fully understand, the Crab Nebula, with another thing that we have incredible modern records of, this supernova. “

“In the process, he is teaching us about fundamental physics: how some neutron stars form, how extreme stars live and die, and how the elements that we are made of are created and dispersed throughout the universe.”

With still more to learn about this new type of supernova, it’s hard not to stare up into the night sky for exciting new flares of immense brightness.

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