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Carnegie Science

Star exploded, survived, and exploded again more than 50 years later

8 Nov 2017, 18:03 UTC
Star exploded, survived, and exploded again more than 50 years later POSS/DSS/LCO/S. ​Wilkinson

An international team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Nick Konidaris and Benjamin Shappee discovered a star that exploded multiple times over a period of 50 years. The finding, published by Nature, completely confounds existing knowledge of a star’s end of life, and Konidaris’ instrument-construction played a crucial role in analyzing the phenomenon. In September 2014, the intermediate Palomar Transient Factory team of astronomers detected a new explosion in the sky, iPTF14hls. The light given off by the event was analyzed in order to understand the speed and chemical composition of the material ejected in the explosion. This analysis indicated that the explosion was what’s called a type II-P supernova, and everything about the discovery seemed normal. Until, that is, a few months later when the supernova started getting brighter again. Type II-P supernovae usually remain bright for about 100 days. But iPTF14hls remained bright for more than 600! What’s more, archival data revealed a 1954 explosion in the exact same location. It turned out that somehow this star exploded more than half a century ago, survived, and exploded again in 2014.

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