Feeds

Junior astronomer spots junior supernova

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

High performance access to file storage

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.