For the first time in the history of studying astronomy, astronomers have caught time-lapse images of what is known as a thermonuclear fireball, exploding out of a nova star. These first-ever images will allow scientists and astronomers to study the events that transpire leading up to, and during the nova eruption.
The nova eruption is the ‘baby brother’ if you will, to the supernova explosion, which is a well-known astrological phenomenon. “Novae” as they’re known in the science community occur when a white dwarf strips the matter from a nearby star with its intense gravitational field.
Professor Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney’s Institute for Astronomy said, “Like a little stellar mosquito, the white dwarf continually sucks the hydrogen from its partner, forming an ocean on its surface.” He goes on to point out that eventually “the pressure reaches a critical point,” then explodes in the event that is being studied.
Tuthill also went on to explain that the amount of energy captured, in terms of mass, would be roughly the size of the planet Saturn, it is at that point, at which the star reaches that critical point. However, seeing this event was something of a challenge, as it unfolded. Dr. Vicente Maestro of the University of Sydney compared it to watching a flower in Spain grow from Sydney. That is a roughly 12,000 kilometer distance of an object that is microscopic at that scale – so this is where the biggest challenge remained.
However, it was proven that the observations were clearer than what scientists and astronomers had expected. Scientists were able to see the structure, as well as the ejected material, and how it evolves throughout the process. What this photos also showed though was that the process is significantly more complicated than what models had previously suggested.
In fact, it showed how the gas expands and then cools, and shows an event that actually happened 15,000 years ago, but only came into vision in the last year given the delay and distance from the sun. However, this event is one that will have a great impact on the study of stars and how they behave as they go through their life cycle.