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.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
When we look up at the night sky, we notice that there are many stars in our sky. Stars must like to live together in star cities - galaxies. Our city of stars is called the Milky Way, and it is home to...more
When stars like our own sun die they will become White Dwarfs. As a star like our sun is running out of fuel in its center it grows into a red giant. This will happen to our sun in 5 Billion years. The...more
Density is a measure of how much mass is contained in a given unit volume (density = mass/volume). Put simply, if mass is a measure of how much ‘stuff’ there is in an object, density is a measure of how...more
Would it be more difficult to pull an elephant or a mouse? If you pulled each animal the same amount, the mouse would come towards you but the elephant would not move at all, even if he didn’t try to...more
Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. Adam Kent, a geologist at Oregon State University, says this...more
The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core. The mantle is made up of many different reservoirs that have different chemical compositions. Scientists...more
Some faults look strong and like they wouldn’t cause an earthquake. But it turns out that they can slip and slide like weak faults causing earthquakes. Scientists have been looking at one of these faults...more