Scientists find ‘unusual’ stellar remains in space

Andrew Griffin@_andrew_griffin
Tuesday 09 February 2021 18:28
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Scientists have found "unusual" stellar remains inside our galaxy.

The researchers believe they might be left over from the first discovered example of a strange explosion that has never been seen in our Milky Way before.

As such, it could help us understand how stars are destroyed – and how the remnants that are left behind scatter elements across the universe, including onto Earth, where they are needed for life.

The unusual object was found near the middle of our galaxy. It is the remains of some kind of supernova, and has been given the name "Sagittarius A East".

Previously, scientists thought that the object was the remains of a massive star that expoded as a supernova. They came to that conclusion after in-depth study of observations from Nasa's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

After looking at longer observations from the observatory, however, they came to te conclusion that the object is from a different type of supernova entirely.

It seems to be the remains of an explosion that arose frmo a white dwarf. White dwarfs form from stars like our Sun when they run out of fuel and shrink into glowing leftovers; when that white dwarf is destroyed by taking on too much material from another star or merging with a white dwarf, it emits a bright flash that can be seen across the cosmos.

Researchers rely on those flashes – referred to as Type Ia supernovae, they throw the same amount of light out wherever they are, which makes them useful to serve as measuring posts across the universe.

However, researchers think that Sagittarius A East is not necessarily a standard example. Instead, it seems to be part of a special subgroup that produce different amounts of elements in less powerful explosions, known as Type Iax.

"While we've found Type Iax supernovae in other galaxies, we haven't identified evidence for one in the Milky Way until now," said Ping Zhou of Nanjing University in China, who led the new study while at the University of Amsterdam, in a statement. "This discovery is important for getting a handle of the myriad ways white dwarfs explode."

While the true nature of the object may only have just been discovered, it has been haunting images of our galaxy taken by Chandra for decades.

"This supernova remnant is in the background of many Chandra images of our galaxy's supermassive black hole taken over the last 20 years," said Zhiyuan Li from Nanjing University in a statement. "We finally may have worked out what this object is and how it came to be."

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