Partner Series
First-Ever Direct Observations of a Supernova
Credit: Romano Corradi and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarisa

This Research in Action article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Astronomers have provided the first-ever direct observations of a Type 1a supernova progenitor system. They collected evidence indicating that the progenitor system contained a red giant star. They also show that the system previously underwent at least one much smaller nova eruption before it ended its life in a destructive supernova. Here, you see an artist's conception of a binary star system that produces recurrent novae, and ultimately, the supernova PTF 11kx. A red giant star (foreground) loses some of its outer layers though a stellar wind, and some of it forms a disk around a companion white dwarf star. This material falls onto the white dwarf, causing it to experience periodic nova eruptions every few decades. When the mass builds to the limit a white dwarf star can take, it explodes as a Type 1a supernova, destroying the white dwarf.

Editor's Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the Research in Action archive.