Nuclear Blast Sends Star Hurtling Across Galaxy At 900,000km Per Hour
A nuclear blast failed to destroy a star and sent it hurtling across the galaxy at 900,000km per hour instead.
The star went through what’s known as a partial supernova; explosions that occur at the end of a star’s lifetime and usually destroy it.
Following the star, known as a white dwarf, being sent flying across the skies, scientists have since detected elements connected to the first thermonuclear reactions of a supernova: carbon, sodium, and aluminium.
The white dwarf is thought to have been part of a binary system where two stars orbit one another, however astronomers were unable to detect the other star.
The object, known as SDSS J1240+6710 (catchy, right?), was discovered in 2015 where it was found to have an unusual atmospheric composition. Scientists found it had neither hydrogen nor helium – elements typically found in the atmosphere of a stars like this – and boasted a mix of oxygen, neon, magnesium and silicon instead.
The Hubble Space Telescope was recently used to detected the star’s current atmospheric state.
One of the main things the unusual white dwarf was missing was what’s known as the ‘iron group’ of elements: iron, nickel, chromium and manganese, BBC News reports.
It’s the lack of these elements that have led astronomers to believe it went through a partial supernova before the nuclear burning died out.
Lead author Professor Boris Gänsicke, from the department of physics at the University of Warwick, said:
This star is unique because it has all the key features of a white dwarf but it has this very high velocity and unusual abundances that make no sense when combined with its low mass.
It has a chemical composition which is the fingerprint of nuclear burning, a low mass and a very high velocity; all of these facts imply that it must have come from some kind of close binary system and it must have undergone thermonuclear ignition. It would have been a type of supernova, but of a kind that that we haven’t seen before.
Scientists also measured the star’s mass which was found to be low for that of a white dwarf. This is consistent with the idea it went through a partial supernova that did not quite destroy it.
While many would link the nuclear reactions that take place in stars as being similar to ones that take place on Earth this isn’t the case. Nuclear reactions on Earth rely on fission, while those that occur in a star rely on fusion.
Fun fact: Did you know thermonuclear supernovas aided the discovery of dark energy? And no, that hasn’t got something to do with Harry Potter.
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