A supernova is the destructive explosion of a star. Thermonuclear supernova, particularly, signal the destruction of a smaller white star, leaving nothing behind. At least, that’s what prototypes and studies suggested.
Thus when a team of astronomers went to stare at the site of the peculiar thermonuclear supernova SN 2012Z with the Hubble Space Telescope, they were surprised to find out that the star had endured the explosion. Not only had it survived, but the star was even brighter after the supernova than ever.
First author Curtis McCully publicized these findings in an article in The Astrophysical Journal and introduced them at a press meeting at the 240th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The puzzling outcomes provide us with new information about the beginnings of some of the most well-known explosions in the universe.
These thermonuclear supernovae, also known as Type Ia supernovae, are some of the essential tools in astronomers’ toolkits for measuring cosmic distances. Starting in 1998, observations of these explosions indicated that the universe has been broadening at an ever-accelerating rate. This is believed to be due to dark energy, the finding of which won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011.
“We were expecting to see one of two things when we got the most recent Hubble data,” McCully said. “Either the star would have completely gone away, or maybe it would have still been there, meaning the star we saw in the pre-explosion images wasn’t the one that blew up. Nobody was expecting to see a surviving star that was brighter. That was a real puzzle.”