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Wispy remains of supernova explosion hide possible 'survivor'

March 30, 2017

Of all the varieties of exploding stars, the ones called Type Ia are perhaps the most intriguing. Their predictable brightness lets astronomers measure the expansion of the universe, which led to the discovery of dark energy. Yet the cause of these supernovae remains a mystery. Do they happen when two white dwarf stars collide? Or does a single white dwarf gorge on gases stolen from a companion star until bursting?

If the second theory is true, the normal star should survive. Astronomers used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to search the gauzy remains of a Type Ia supernova in a neighboring galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. They found a sun-like star that showed signs of being associated with the supernova. Further investigations will be needed to learn if this star is truly the culprit behind a white dwarf's fiery demise.

This image, taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows the supernova remnant SNR 0509-68.7, also known as N103B. It is located 160,000 light-years from Earth in a neighboring galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. N103B resulted from a Type Ia supernova, whose cause remains a mystery. One possibility would leave behind a stellar survivor, and astronomers have identified a possible candidate.

The actual supernova remnant is the irregular shaped dust cloud, at the upper center of the image. The gas in the lower half of the image and the dense concentration of stars in the lower left are the outskirts of the star cluster NGC 1850.

The Hubble image combines visible and near-infrared light taken by the Wide Field Camera 3 in June 2014.
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NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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