Astronomers Discover A Star That Won’t Die Even After Exploding

Posted: Nov 10 2017, 2:58pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 10 2017, 3:04pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Astronomers Discover a Star that Won’t Die Even after Exploding
Credit: NASA/ESA/G. BACON (STSci)

The discovery challenges existing theories on the death of stars

Astronomers have discovered a mysterious star that survives even after supernova explosion. The star has experienced explosions over a period of 50 years and defied death more than once. The discovery calls into question the existing theories about the death of stars.

Stars typically explode in the last stage of their life cycle and shine for about 100 days before fading into a neutron star or black hole. However, the supernova, named iPTF14hls, remained bright for more than 600 days. This is the first time astronomers have observed a 'zombie' star of such kind.

“The spectra we obtained at Keck Observatory showed that this supernova looked like nothing we had ever seen before. This, after discovering nearly 5,000 supernovae in the last two decades," said study co-author Peter Nugent from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "While the spectra bear a resemblance to normal hydrogen-rich core-collapse supernova explosions, they grew brighter and dimmer at least five times more slowly, stretching an event which normally lasts 100 days to over two years."

The supernova iPTF14hls was discovered in September of 2014 by a team of astronomers from Palomar Transient Factory. Initially it looked like an ordinary supernova that was about to fade away. But several months later it started getting brighter again. What’s even more surprising is that archival data reveals a stellar explosion in the exact same location in 1954. It means that somehow this star exploded around 50 years ago, survived, and exploded again in 2014.

“This is one of those head-scratcher type of events," said Nugent. "At first we thought it was completely normal and boring. Then it just kept staying bright, and not changing, for month after month. Piecing it all together, from our observations at Palomar Transient Factory, Keck Observatory, LCOGT, and even the images from 1954 in the Palomar Sky Survey, has started to shed light on what this could be. I would really like to find another one like this."

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