Skip to main content

Spectacular ultraviolet flash may finally explain how white dwarfs explode

Event also could give insight into dark energy and the creation of iron

Composite image of SN2019yvq (blue dot) in the host galaxy NGC 4441 (large yellow body in center), which is nearly 140 million light-years from Earth. Credit: ZTF/A. A. Miller (Northwestern University) and D. Goldstein (Caltech). Find image downloads and more in Northwestern’s press kit

For just the second time ever, astrophysicists have spotted a spectacular flash of ultraviolet (UV) light accompanying a white dwarf explosion.

Adam Miller

Adam Miller, LSST Data Science Fellow

An extremely rare type of supernova, the event is poised to offer insights into several long-standing mysteries, including what causes white dwarfs to explode, how dark energy accelerates the cosmos and how the universe creates heavy metals, such as iron.

“The UV flash is telling us something very specific about how this white dwarf exploded,” said Northwestern University astrophysicist Adam Miller, who led the research. “As time passes, the exploded material moves farther away from the source. As that material thins, we can see deeper and deeper. After a year, the material will be so thin that we will see all the way into the center of the explosion.”

At that point, Miller said, his team will know more about how this white dwarf — and all white dwarfs, which are dense remnants of dead stars — explode.

Continue to the full story on Northwestern News by Amanda Morris.

View the paper on The Astrophysical Journal, “The Spectacular Ultraviolet Flash from the Peculiar Type Ia Supernova 2019yvq” by Miller et al

Media Mentions of Northwestern/CIERA