Supernovae are often thought of as the tremendous explosions that mark the ends of massive stars’ lives.
A common supernova class, called type Ia, involves the detonation of white dwarfs – small dense cores of stars that are already dead. New results from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have revealed a rare example of a type Ia explosion in which a dead star “Fed” off an aging star like a cosmic zombie, triggering a blast.
Kepler’s supernova, named after the astronomer Johannes Kepler who witnessed it along with many other people in 1604, is thought to have been preceded by just one white dwarf and an elderly companion star called a red giant.
Spitzer’s new observations now find a second case of a supernova remnant resembling Kepler’s. Unlike Kepler’s supernova remnant, no historical sightings of the explosion that created N103B are recorded. As the aging star molts, which is typical for older stars, the shed material falls onto the white dwarf.
The case of what makes a dead star rupture is still very much an unsolved mystery.