This image shows what helium flowing from one white dwarf onto another might look like.
Click on image for full size
Credit: Tony Piro (2005)

Unusual Explosion Sparks New Insight Into the Life of Stars
News story originally written on November 5, 2009

Sometimes stars explode. This is called a supernova. From Earth, astronomers use telescopes to watch the bright flash of light from exploding stars in far-away galaxies.

But recently, while watching the sky, they saw an explosion that was not like an ordinary exploding star.

The light coming from the explosion was different. It was much less bright than a typical supernova and was three to four times faster, lasting only about 20 days.

This may not be a supernova at all. Two white dwarf stars orbiting around each other may have caused it.

White dwarfs are very dense. They have the mass of a large star packed into a small space roughly the size of Earth. When two white dwarfs orbit close together, a thick layer of helium to build up. That helium can explode, which is what scientists suspect happened during this event.

Last modified February 5, 2010 by Lisa Gardiner.

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