It seems that like your favorite latte at the local coffee shop, the most violent star explosions in the universe come in small sizes too. Astronomers this week announced they have found a new miniature version of a supernova they are calling Type Iax. Up until now, supernovae were thought to come in two main flavors – core collapse and Type Ia. (Related: Supernovae Facts)
The most energetic are the core-collapse ones which start their lives as monster- sized stars 10 to 100 times more massive than our Sun, and live fast and furious- completely destroying themselves at the end of their lives. The Type Ia suffers the same fate but originates from an Earth-sized white dwarf in a binary star system that blows itself apart. (Related: New Type of Exploding Supernova Found)
Now this new Type Iax appears to also form out of a white dwarf binary system but somehow the tiny star manages to survive the cataclysmic blast.
“A Type Iax supernova is essentially a mini supernova,” said study co-author and astronomer Ryan Foley, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in a press statement.
“It’s the runt of the supernova litter.”
How widespread could these dwarf supernovae be in the cosmos? While Foley and his teammates are not yet sure why exactly they can survive, they have done some calculations showing their rarity.
They estimate these stellar blasts are only a third as common and only one-hundredth as bright as their Type 1a big brothers; part of the reason why we haven’t discovered them until now. Based on the 25 candidates they managed to track down, this new type of supernovae also find their origins in young star systems- perhaps similar to those found commonly in spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way.
But while this may mean there could be a few of these stellar time bombs in our own galaxy – the chances of finding one in our own galactic neighborhood are most likely slim. After all astronomers estimate that only one supernovae goes off per century in a spiral galaxy like our own.