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A New Type of Supernova

Astronomers have recently discovered and identified a new, unique kind of supernova. For those who don’t know, a supernova is a giant explosion that occurs upon the death of a star. Prior to this discovery, astronomers knew of only two different types of supernovae, black holes/neutron stars and white dwarves. Black holes and neutron stars are formed when large stars (10 times the mass of the sun) burn their fuel, collapse from the inside, and erupt. This type of supernova is called iron core-collapse. On the other hand, white dwarves result from smaller stars (less than 8 times the mass of the sun) burning out over time. This second type of supernova is called a thermonuclear supernova. There have been theories about a third type of supernova, called an electron-capture supernova, dating back 40 years to the 1980s. However, none of these theories have been proven by real-world examples and evidence until now.

A worldwide team lead by UCSB scientists finally discovered the first piece of “convincing” evidence for electron-capture supernovae. These type of supernovae are suspected to arise from the explosions of massive super-asymptotic giant branch (SAGB) stars. This type of star has also been rare and hard to prove. This newly discovered supernova explains the bright explosion that occurred nearly 1,000 years ago (1054 AD) and resulted in the Crab Nebula. The “Goldilocks” supernova has been coined so because it occurs from “medium-sized” stars, those between 8 and 10 times the mass of the sun. The internal pressure of these types of stars force electrons to fuse with atomic nuclei and drop the pressure within this star, causing an electron-capture supernova. Models from astronomers have shown 6 criteria that a star should fall under in order for it to undergo an electron-capture supernova. This criteria includes mass (must be between 8-10 solar masses), mass shed material, explosion strength, and much more. With this new discovery, scientists and astronomers will be able to better categorize and identify supernovae in the future.

Newly discovered supernova may be same type as the one observed in 1054 |  Ars Technica
Image of an electron-capture supernova

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