Rare Supernova 'Impostor' In Nearby Galaxy Caught In The Act

First Posted: Feb 16, 2016 12:48 PM EST

Astronomers have discovered that a rare supernova might actually be an "impostor" within a close-by galaxy. In the latest study, researchers got to the bottom of a mystery involving X-rays, where they found that a star that was "pretending" to be a supernova. The so-called supernova was identified as SN 2010da. Typically, when a star explodes as a supernova, it leaves a black hole or a neutron star behind, which is not visible until weeks later. However, this was not the case with SN 2010da.  

"Most supernovae are visible for a short time and then - over a matter of weeks - fade from view. SN 2010da is what we call a 'supernova impostor' - something initially thought to be a supernova based on a bright emission of light, but later to be shown as a massive star that for some reason is showing this enormous flare of activity," Breanna Binder, coauthor of the study, said in a news release.

Binder directed NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory towards NGC300, where she noticed that SN 2010da was releasing massive amounts of X-rays, which should not be the case for a supernova impostor. Based on their new observations, the team noted that like many other supernovae impostors, SN 2010da probably has a companion, a neutron star.

"If this star's companion truly is a neutron star, that would mean that the neutron star was once a giant, massive star that underwent its own supernova explosion in the past," Binder said. "The fact that this supernova event didn't expel the other star, which is 20 to 25 times the mass of our sun, makes this an incredibly rare type of binary system."

The findings of this study were published in the arXiv journal.

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