Monday, December 27, 2010

Noticing Novae

Scientists using data from a satellite meant to study the Sun and the solar wind have discovered four novae in the early stages of their eruptions. Only two of the stars were picked up by other means. A nova is the explosion of a white dwarf star. Not only doesn't the explosion destroy the star, but a single star can go nova several times. A supernova, on the other hand, does destroy the star, sometimes leaving a black hole.

The study suggests the astronomical community is missing many such events even when a nova reaches naked-eye visibility, resulting in an underestimation of the frequency of nova events in the universe. Dedicating an astronomical satellite to doing an all-sky survey every orbit of the Earth could pick up more nova explosions. The locations of those events could then be relayed to ground-based observatories for more detailed study. This seems to be a case in which a relatively modest program could produce important results.

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