Feeds

Stargazers ID imminent supernova

For a given value of imminent, anyway

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Astronomers have spotted a star that is, in astronomical terms, just about to explode in a spectacular supernova.

RS Ophiuchi, a white dwarf located near the constellation of Libra, caught astronomers' attention last February when it flared up to 1,000 times its normal brightness.

Astronomers identified it as a very rare beast - a star on the brink of becoming a type Ia supernova. These supernovae are very rare, but incredibly useful to astronomers. When a white dwarf does explode, Type Ia style, the brightness of the explosion is remarkably consistent - around five billion times as bright as our sun.

Astronomers use these supernovae as so-called standard candles, to work out intergalactic distances that would otherwise be impossible to gauge.

The actual explosion might not take place for a while though. Jeno Sokoloski, the lead author of a paper on the star published in Nature says that while the star could go bang tomorrow, it might not change for another 100,000 years.

RS Ophiuchi is in a binary system and is swallowing matter from its companion star at a rate of around a millionth of the sun's mass per decade. It needs to reach 1.4 solar masses before it goes critical.

But before the star reaches that stage it will periodically flare up, becoming many times brighter than normal. Astonomers at Harvard University managed to spot a plume of material that had been thrown off RS Ophiuchi by such a flare.

Sokoloski told the BBC: "The explosion is so energetic it actually lifts an envelope of material off the surface of the star and throws it off into space.

"[The plume] started slowing down almost immediately, within just two days, and that tells us the white dwarf must be extremely massive, in fact almost massive enough to collapse."

The last known type Ia supernova in the Milky Way was back in 1572 and was witnessed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. He interpreted the new star in the sky as being just that - a new star, and coined the term Nova to describe what he had seen. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.