University of Texas at Austin

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The White Widow Model: A New Scenario for the Birth of Type Ia Supernovae

Supernova remnant 0509-67.5 was searched for a left-behind partner star without success. (NASA)

Supernova remnant 0509-67.5 was searched for a left-behind partner star without success. (NASA)

J. Craig Wheeler has studied the exploding stars called supernovae for more than four decades. Now he has a new idea on the identity of the “parents” of one of the most important types of supernovae — the Type Ia, those used as “standard candles” in cosmology studies that led to the discovery of dark energy, the mysterious force causing the universe’s expansion to speed up.

Wheeler lays out his case for supernova parentage in the current issue of The Astrophysical Journal. He explains why he thinks the parents of Type Ia could be a binary star made up of white dwarf star (the burnt-out remnant of a Sun-like star) and a particular type of small star called an “M dwarf.”

In the paper, he explains that current theories for Type Ia parents don’t correctly match up with telescope data on actual supernovae.

Read more in Rebecca Johnson’s article about Wheeler’s new model on the McDonald Observatory website.

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