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Dec. 11, 2013

Researchers glimpse the first explosive moments of a nova

Image of explosive moments of a nova

Scientists using the MAXI X-ray observatory, which was developed jointly by RIKEN and JAXA, have caught glimpses of what appear to be the first explosive moments of a nova in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

The nova involves a binary system with a star and a white dwarf. The star is constantly shedding mass that subsequently accumulates on the surface of the white dwarf, occasionally leading to a runaway thermonuclear explosion that rids the white dwarf of a thin layer of material, making it dormant again until it gains enough material to start another explosion.

The team of researchers from RIKEN, JAXA, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Nihon University, was able for the first time to observe what is believed to be the “fireball” that erupts when a white dwarf first casts off the thin layer on its surface.

The MAXI observatory is mounted on the Kibo module of the International Space Station and scans the whole sky looking for X-ray emissions that indicate nova and supernova processes.

The study is published in Astrophysical Journal arXiv:1310.1175 [astro-ph.HE]