Scientists say they’ve found three ‘zombie’ stars that survived explosions in their cores

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Scientists say they’ve found three ‘zombie’ stars that survived explosions in their cores

  • Scientists have found three rare ‘zombie’ stars using new telescope data
  • Two of the stars are flying through the Milky Way while one is orbiting backward
  • The stars survived an explosion in their cores called a supernova
  • Research could help scientists understand supernova and what they do 

Scientists say they’ve made progress in identifying several ‘zombie’ stars that continue to smolder on even after their core explodes. 

In a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers say they’ve identified three of the rare and mysterious objects using data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope.

The stars, named for their ability to live on even after their core explodes, were identified by their unique signatures — the small white dwarfs are decidedly less dense than their non-zombie counterparts and are made of oxygen and neon — as well as their movement.

Scientists have uncovered several ‘zombie’ stars that survived the explosion of their cores. 

Two of the three stars were observed traveling at breakneck velocities across the Milky Way Galaxy and are set to eventually leave the galactic bounds entirely, while the third star is rotating ‘backwards,’ travelling in the opposite direction of other stars in the galaxy.

While some stars completely vanish once they reach the end of their fuel reserves, exploding outward in what’s known as a supernova and ejecting stellar material across the galaxy, some get a second chance at life.

In a newly discovered type of supernova called a ‘type lax’ the explosions move slower and dissipate more quickly, researchers say the existence of a zombie star almost obliterated by its core explosion would theoretically be possible.

Scientists say that by studying the rare type of star they may be able to study the phenomenon that leads to their creation — supernovas — more closely. 

Supernovas, like zombie stars, are a rare occurrence and often difficult to observe for astronomers since they can only be seen in far away galaxies.  

By studying the exploded stars, several of which have been observed in our own galaxy, scientists say they can get a closer look at the immediate aftermath of a supernova. 

The rare discovery may help illuminate conditions the follow a supernova -- a giant explosion created by the death of a star. Stock image

The rare discovery may help illuminate conditions the follow a supernova — a giant explosion created by the death of a star. Stock image

In a report from Scientific American published ahead of the recent study, one researcher not affiliated with the paper described studying the zombie stars as being similar to examining the remnants of ancient dinosaurs.

‘It’s like we can see the supernovae—the dinosaurs—in these other galaxies,’ Saurabh Jha, an astronomer at Rutgers University, told the outlet. 

‘But here nearby we—with these kinds of stars—we have the fossils.’

Researchers hope that there could be at least 20 more stars like the one’s identified within our own galaxy which could expand the scope of data even further. 

WHAT IS A SUPERNOVA AND HOW DOES IT FORM?

A supernova occurs when a star explodes, shooting debris and particles into space.

A supernova burns for only a short period of time, but it can tell scientists a lot about how the universe began.

One kind of supernova has shown scientists that we live in an expanding universe, one that is growing at an ever increasing rate.

Scientists have also determined that supernovas play a key role in distributing elements throughout the universe.

In 1987, astronomers spotted a ‘titanic supernova’ in a nearby galaxy blazing with the power of over 100 million suns (pictured)

In 1987, astronomers spotted a ‘titanic supernova’ in a nearby galaxy blazing with the power of over 100 million suns (pictured)

There are two known types of supernova.

The first type occurs in binary star systems when one of the two stars, a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, steals matter from its companion star.

Eventually, the white dwarf accumulates too much matter, causing the star to explode, resulting in a supernova.

The second type of supernova occurs at the end of a single star’s lifetime.

As the star runs out of nuclear fuel, some of its mass flows into its core.

Eventually, the core is so heavy it can’t stand its own gravitational force and the core collapses, resulting in another giant explosion. 

Many elements found on Earth are made in the core of stars and these elements travel on to form new stars, planets and everything else in the universe.



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