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Possible Progenitor of Special Supernova Type Detected

For Release: February 13, 2008

CXC Release

SN 2007on in NGC 1404
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MPE/R. Voss et al.; Optical: NASA/Swift
Press Image and Caption

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, scientists have reported the possible detection of a binary star system that was later destroyed in a supernova explosion. The new method they used provides great future promise for finding the detailed origin of these important cosmic events.

In an article appearing in the February 14th issue of the journal Nature, Rasmus Voss of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany and Gijs Nelemans of Radboud University in the Netherlands searched Chandra images for evidence of a much sought after, but as yet unobserved binary system - one that was about to go supernova. Near the position of a recently detected supernova, they discovered an object in Chandra images taken more than four years before the explosion.

The supernova, known as SN 2007on, was identified as a Type Ia supernova. Astronomers generally agree that Type Ia supernovas are produced by the explosion of a white dwarf star in a binary star system. However, the exact configuration and trigger for the explosion is unclear. Is the explosion caused by a collision between two white dwarfs, or because a white dwarf became unstable by pulling too much material off a companion star?

Answering such questions is a high priority because Type Ia supernovas are major sources of iron in the Universe. Also, because of their nearly uniform intrinsic brightness, Type Ia supernova are used as important tools by scientists to study the nature of dark energy and other cosmological issues.

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