HONOLULU (KHON2) — Astronomers at the WM Keck Observatory helped make a rare sighting 1,500 light years away.
Two stars in the beginning of what will eventually become a supernova were spotted by an international team of astronomers and astrophysicists led by the University of Warwick.
The tragic shape is caused by a massive nearby white dwarf distorting the star with its intense gravity, which will also be the catalyst for an eventual supernova that will consume and destroy them both.
With the help of W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna kea, the astronomers were able to confirm that the two stars are in the early stages of a spiral that will likely end in a Type Ia supernova: a type that helps astronomers determine how fast the universe is expanding.
“We don’t know exactly how these supernovae explode, but we know it has to happen because we see it happening elsewhere in the universe,” Ingrid Pelisoli from the University of Warwick Department of Physics explained. “One way is if the white dwarf accretes enough mass from the hot sub dwarf, so as the two of them are orbiting each other and getting closer, matter will start to escape the hot sub dwarf and fall onto the white dwarf. Another way is that because they are losing energy to gravitational wave emissions, they will get closer until they merge. Once the white dwarf gains enough mass from either method, it will go supernova.”
“The more we understand about how supernovae form, the better we can understand whether this discrepancy we are seeing is because of new physics that we’re unaware of and not taking into account, or simply because we’re underestimating the uncertainties in those distances,” she added.