Feeds

Junior astronomer spots junior supernova

14-year-old student finds new type of solar explosion

New hybrid storage solutions

A 14-year-old student from New York state has become the youngest person in history to discover a supernova. And her find is also one of the most peculiar supernovae spotted to date.

For a massive stellar explosion, this one appears to be a dud.

Using a relatively small telescope, Caroline Moore spied the faint object located roughly 70 million light-years away from Earth.

Additional observations with more powerful telescopes determined the object, dubbed SN 2008ha, is a new type of exploding star, 1000 times more powerful than a nova, but 1000 times weaker than a typical supernova. Scientists say SN 2008ha effectively bridges the gap between the two.

Not-so-supernova, SN 2008ha. Credit: William Wiethoff

"If a normal supernova is a nuclear bomb, then SN 2008ha is a bunker buster," said Ryan Foley, Clay fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and first author on the paper reporting the findings. "From one perspective, this supernova was an underachiever. However, you still wouldn't want to be anywhere near the star when it exploded."

Typical novae are thought to occur on the surface of a white dwarf star in a binary system (two stars orbiting around their common center of mass). If the white dwarf crowds its neighbor enough, it can suck up the gas from the other star. Occasionally, the new material becomes hot enough to start nuclear fusion on the white dwarf's surface — causing the small, dense star to suddenly become extremely bright.

If the white dwarf eats a sufficient amount of its stellar companion, it can raise the star's core temperature enough to ignite runaway nuclear fusion (viz: pop goes the weasel.) This is defined as a type Ia supernova.

"You can imagine many ways for a star to explode that might resemble SN 2008ha," said Robert Kirschner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "It could have been a massive star suddenly collapsing to form a black hole, with very little energy leaking out. But it looks a lot like its brighter cousins, which we think are nuclear explosions of white dwarfs. Maybe this one was an explosion of that general type, just much, much weaker."

The scientists describe that in a typical supernova explosion, light from the different chemical elements is "smeared" across the electromagnetic spectrum, courtesy the Doppler effect. Moore's SN 2008ha, however, paints a clearer picture because the star shrapnel is traveling at a mere 4.5 million miles per hour, compared to a brisk 22 million mph for a typical supernova. The lets boffins analyze the composition of SN 2008ha to a greater precision.

Astronomers hope the newest generation of telescopes and instruments will spot much more of this type of event in the next few years.

The paper was accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal and is available here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Chelyabinsk-sized SURPRISE asteroid to skim Earth, satnav birds
Space rock appears out of nowhere, buzzes planet on Sunday
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
Square Kilometre Array reveals its 1.6TB-a-day storage and network rigs
Boolardy Engineering Test Array - aka BETA - is about to come out of Beta
LOHAN invites ENTIRE REG READERSHIP to New Mexico shindig
Well, those of you who back our Kickstarter tin-rattling...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.