For the first time ever, astronomers have taken high-quality time-lapse photos of a white dwarf nova explosion that happened more than 14,800 light-years away from Earth, and originated in a star known as Nova Delphinus located in the constellation of Delphinus.
A research team of solar astronomers from around the globe witnessed the nova explosion using space-observation technology known as the CHARA Array. The array brings together the light from six optical telescopes to enable extremely high resolution imagery. The CHARA Array is based in LA, but operated by astronomers at Georgia State University.
White dwarf nova explosion
The “smaller sister” of a supernova, a nova explosion results when a white dwarf sun — a Earth-size dead star with the mass of the sun — takes hydrogen from its parent star until it explodes. The continuing intake of mass eventually triggers a thermonuclear fusion explosion as big as a million hydrogen bombs detonated simultaneously.
Statement from researcher on white dwarf nova
“The interesting thing for me, were the multiple shells seen as the nova explodes,” noted Michael Ireland, a researcher the Australian National University, in an interview with Discovery News.
He continued to say, “There’s a main shell expanding at about 600 kilometers per second, but then there were also semi-transparent shells further out going even faster. So we could see both the optically thick inner shell, and the transparent outer shells expanding at the same time.”
State of the art astronomical imagery
“We are really lucky to be collaborating with the team running the CHARA array in Southern California,” commented Peter Tuthill, a researcher on the project and an astronomer at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, said in a statement. “They are able, using its state of the art technology, to make the exquisitely fine measurements necessary to witness this event.”
Of note, the high-quality time-lapse images from the CHARA Array made it possible for the researchers to learn a number of important new details about how a nova explosion develops.