back to article 'Now we understand what's required to explode a supernova' - NASA

Top space boffins say that the latest readings from an orbiting science instrument have unlocked the secrets of mighty "Type Ia" supernovae, events in which stars blow up with such violence that they destroy solar systems and outshine entire galaxies. The new data come from NASA's Swift satellite, orbiting the Earth and …


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  1. Stacy


    For a moment there I had visions of Kryten and the rest of the Nova 5 crew writing the name of a certain fizzy drink brand in the sky!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Doolittle: Bomb 20 get back in the bay!

    Bomb 20: Let there be light. Kerboom!

  3. Thought About IT

    Warning: agenda at work

    Lewis, why are you so selective about reporting on the categories of science that NASA undertakes? For example, you didn't cover this:

    "The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years."

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: Warning: agenda at work

      The line you selected is a quote from the 4th IPCC report, which is a political, not a scientific, document.

      1. Thought About IT
        Thumb Down

        Re: Warning: agenda at work

        The line I selected is a quote from the NASA page I linked to.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Warning: agenda at work

          A page which quotes or paraphrases AR4 and its summary for policy makers. In fact the quote you picked is directly referenced as coming from the AR4 summary for policy makers.

          So it's political. Stop pretending it isn't.

          1. Thought About IT

            Re: Warning: agenda at work

            There's overwhelming evidence to prove that it's a simple statement of fact. The science is politically neutral; it's the consequences that are politically divisive.

            1. Chris Miller

              Re: Warning: agenda at work

              Well then, you (and NASA) should quote from scientific papers, not from a political UN document. Unless it's a political point you're making. Remind me again, who's agenda is at work here?

              1. Thought About IT

                Re: Warning: agenda at work

                Did you bother to read the footnotes at ? You should be able to find the evidence for yourself, but here's a hint: don't waste your time looking at WUWT, the GWPF or Lewis's articles on El Reg.

                1. Chris Miller

                  Re: Warning: agenda at work

                  Well, you clearly didn't bother to read the footnotes, since you failed to notice that your original quote was lifted from the IPCC. FWIW, I suspect that there is a scientific case that human CO2 emissions may cause warming, additional to what may or may not be occurring 'naturally'. The trouble is that we're unlikely to find out the true extent (save by waiting a few decades), because real science has been hijacked by zealots on both sides.

                  Funnily enough, I don't read ElReg looking for peer reviewed science (except by indirect reference). I don't rely on the IPCC, either, and for much the same reasons.

                  1. Thought About IT

                    Re: Warning: agenda at work

                    The point I was making is that Lewis seems to trust NASA's "boffins" to research supernovae, but not what's happening to our own atmosphere. The reason for that is surely because their conclusions do not suit his agenda. A classic case of cherry picking science.

                    1. Gordon 10

                      Re: Warning: agenda at work

                      Thats because those Nasa astrophysics boffins have no short term payoffs to gain - whilst Climate scientists have massive short term payoffs to gain. Not all of them are that veneal - but when your grant money rests on short term results then you are bound to be influenced.

                      It doesnt matter a jot whether the super-nova theory is wrong or right in the general scheme of things until we get out among the stars, which is unlikely with the luddites in charge.

                      I would also suggest that Physics is real science and the "science of climate change" falls somewhere between history, mathematical modelling, and spin doctoring.

                    2. Tom 13

                      Re: science boffins vs budget fear mongerers

                      The distinction is simple really: the science boffins observing the supernovae publish their data as well as their hypotheses, calculations, and models. The warmmongers looking for more money in their budgets only publish their conclusions and then do their best Bill Murray imitation* when asked about their data, hypotheses, calculations, and models.

                      Ghost Busters, "Back off man, I'm a scientist!"

            2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

              Re: Warning: agenda at work

              "There's overwhelming evidence to prove that it's a simple statement of fact. "

              No, there isn't. There's a great deal of circumstantial evidence but there's also a great deal of question over how accurate and reliable that evidence is, especially given the repeated "adjustments" of historical temperature records that nearly always reduce temperatures in the past, and the reliance on a very small number of proxies that have been shown to have significant error margins and biases in the collection method, amongst other issues. In addition the current warming trend is neither unusual nor particularly significant in historical terms - even within the instrument record - and falls well within the bounds of natural variability.

              The entire AGW concept is based on the idea of "forcings" reaching a tipping point. Given that temperatures have been higher in the past (or were until the temperature records were fiddled to show otherwise), and CO2 levels have been much higher without any tipping point being reached, and given that we are still here despite these much warmer and much higher CO2 epochs, I would suyrmise that the current paranoia about a fractional increase in CO2 levels is just so much hokum. That leaves only political reasons for its persistence.

              You have to admit, it does offer a great way to raise more revenue.

            3. TheOtherHobbes

              Re: Warning: agenda at work

              Uh huh. And the people - and journo-wannabes - who come on boards like this to discredit scientifically solid research into climate change effects are being rigorously informed, educated and objective, and *not political at all.*

              And the denial-funders who pay for the FUD around climate change - they're not being political either. They're really angels of lightness and common sense compared to the evil - eeeevil! - IPCC.

              Yeah. Right.

              How many papers about climate change has Lewis Page and the other 'lalala not happening' deniers on here had published in peer reviewed journals?

              Go on. Give me a list.

              But hey - all those people doing science every day of their working lives are dead wrong, and all the amateurs on boards like this who can't even do contour integrals without tripping over their forebrains know more about the subject than they do.

              Excuse me if I snort with pity and derision in the general direction of your utter fail.

              1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

                Re: Warning: agenda at work

                What's that? Argument to authority? Oh my, so *scientific*.

                1. Thomas 18

                  Re: Warning: agenda at work

                  Avez vous le Popcorn?

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Numbers game?

    Kind of surprising that the probabilities actually work out such that there are enough white dwarfs at just the right point in their life hitting each other in just the right way to cause the observed numbers of 1a supernovas. But then the universe is a big place... <cue the D.Adams quote!>

    1. Ru

      Re: Numbers game?

      God did it to test your faith.

      Next you'll be telling me that some of these supernovae occurred more than 10000 years ago, before the creation of space and time.

  5. Wombling_Free


    "these results could suggest that the dwarf-conkers theory is actually the correct one"

    I have never heard a theory of such zarking belgium.

    Any hoopy frood knows that Intergalactic Bar Billiards is the reason. Potting a planet into a black hole gets you 4 million points, I just can't remember what a White Dwarf Double Zarquon gets you though.

    Pan-galactic gargle-blasters all round, barbeing!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Preposterous

      >"I just can't remember what a White Dwarf Double Zarquon gets you though."

      Well, it stops the white hole from spewing time into the universe, and gives you the perfect opportunity to say whatever the hell you like to your smeghead crewmate while the time-lines re-knit themselves, but, on the down-side, your computer will become an idiot again.

      1. Tom 38

        So, what is it?

        CAT: So, what is it?

        KRYTEN: I've never seen one before -- no one has -- but I'm guessing it's

        a white hole.

        RIMMER: A _white_ hole?

        KRYTEN: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A black hole

        sucks time and matter out of the universe: a white hole returns it.

        LISTER: So, that thing's spewing time back into the universe? (He dons

        his fur-lined hat.)

        KRYTEN: Precisely. That's why we're experiencing these curious time

        phenomena on board.

        CAT: So, what is it?

        KRYTEN: I've never seen one before -- no one has -- but I'm guessing it's

        a white hole.

        RIMMER: A _white_ hole?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          So, what is it?

          Only joking!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dwarf conkers?

    Sounds like an Olympic demonstration sport involving two small people dangling from Tower Bridge.

    1. perlcat

      Re: Dwarf conkers?

      I thought that it sounded mildly obscene.

      1. Aaron Em

        Re: Dwarf conkers?

        Why not both?

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't.

      <speaking slowly and clearly as if to a three-year-old> Red matter is stuff from a Star Trek film, which is make believe. This news article is about real life, not pretend stuff.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Francis Boyle

      Red matter is bullshit

      Everyone knows you use trilithium to blow up stars.

      1. Robert Harrison

        Re: Red matter is bullshit

        ... dispatched via a naff little rocket launched from a rickety metal gantry where, after ascending at about the speed of your average domestic firework, it suddenly covers several million miles to reach its target.

        I've seen that movie too.

  8. darksatanic


    Slightly more worrying from the science point of view is that this would tend to invalidate the use of Type Ia supernovae as "standard candles", where the explosion is assumed to be of the same size in every case. If the "vampire" theory is correct, a white dwarf skims off material from a companion, until the dwarf's mass exceeds the Chandrasekhar limit, at which point it blows up -- so the supernova star is always the same mass, and hence always the same brightness. In the collision version, you can't guarantee that the mass of the two stars colliding is always the same, so we lose the standard candle.

    Why is this important? Well, if you can assume that the explosion is always the same size, it's always the same brightness, and we can use that to work out how far away stuff is. If we can't do that, it makes measuring distances much, much harder, and I suspect a lot of results are going to have to be revisited.

    1. Bhairava

      Re: Consequences...

      Good point. Still, given the low prob of a direct hit, most encounters will play out as a series of close passes involving orbiting bodies, even if it's a decaying orbit. In that case, the math should hold. It just won't be quite as accurate.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Andy Fletcher

      Re: Consequences...

      Hang on. I know the Chandrasekhar limit applies to white dwarfs, but didn't know it automatically meant the things would blow up if it got exceeded. Don't some of them collapse to form neutron stars? And if that is the case, isn't it more likely for one that only just exceeded the limit to collapse, whereas two colliding and exceeding the limit by a huge margin in a tiny amount of time more likely to blow up?

      1. figure 11

        Re: Consequences...

        As I recall a neutron star is believed to formed from a type 2 supernova of a star over a certain mass. The collapse is rapid enough for the nuclei to be squashed into neutron degenerate matter before the carbon atoms get a chance to fuse so you don't get the gert kablam you would do from a white dwarf collision or accretion.

    4. Ged T

      Re: Consequences... On the other hand...

      It is possible that the 1a type explosion occurs at some tipping point of energy and matter being reached during the merge and so it could be relatively constant; the threashold energy level could generate a consistent "standard candle" brightness with excess steller materials being accelerated outward so quickly as to not significantly participate or contribute to the event, but instead, "seeding" the vista for next generation of stars in that region...

      Just a thought...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No such thing as a supernova.

    What we think are supernovae are in fact just very bad industrial accidents caused by alien civilisations, just after they discover how to tap zero-point energy...

  10. Armando 123

    One question

    'Alternatively, two white dwarfs might collide like vast hypermassive billiard balls leading to a cataclysmic blast."

    I thought that the theory was that when two white dwarfs collided, they formed an R CorBor star. Then again, my astronomy knowledge was founded long ago and I haven't kept up with the more esoteric theoretical developments.

  11. Mark York 3 Silver badge

    The Hand Of Omega

    Wot no mention of the Remote Stellar Manipulator.

  12. perlcat
    Black Helicopters


    None of the theories covered the obvious: the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

  13. hplasm


    Two FTL palnets crushing a star in a pincer movement.

    qv. 'Ploor'...

    1. Aaron Em

      Re: Obviously-

      Nice to see I'm not the only one who remembers the true classics.

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    A neat demonstration of reality versus "common sense"

    I think the white dwarf sucking matter off another star sounded much more *likely*

    *two* white dwarfs in a collision sounded *highly* improbable. What are the odds?

    Yet the latter appears to correct.

    If the comment about the "Standard candle" is correct then it sounds like quite a lot of astronomical stuff is about to change.

    Thumbs up for continuing to expand our knowledge of the universe.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: A neat demonstration of reality versus "common sense"

      Quite a lot of astronomical stuff is always about to change. Of all the stuff in astrophysics, the only things we think we've really got nailed down pretty solid are Gravity and Light (speed and spectra). After that you start piling inferences on top of assumptions on top of hypothesis. Any time you add one new piece of hard data, all those pieces are subject to change. One of the most amazing things about astronomy is that it holds together so well with how little we actually know, because for the most part we can't actually perform experiments to test theories, we can only observe natural occurrences.

  16. dssf

    "Two main scenarios had been considered possible: in one, the white dwarf sucks in and gobbles up matter from a companion normal star, so gaining mass until, overstuffed, it blows up with unimaginable violence. Alternatively, two white dwarfs might collide like vast hypermassive billiard balls leading to a cataclysmic blast."

    In space a white dwarf sucks... Is there a black giant that spews?

    Two billiard balls? That kind of collision on a cosmic scale would be cat-orgasmic.... MMMYOWWWWW! Cat scratch feev-ur in deep spaces...

  17. Ted Treen

    To explode a supernova?

    Why would you want to explode what is by definition, an explosion?

    Does exploding an explosion make it more sexy?

    1. Mako

      "Does exploding an explosion make it more sexy?"

      Allow me to introduce you to Michael Bay's back catalogue...

      1. SYNTAX__ERROR

        Re: "Does exploding an explosion make it more sexy?"

        Only if the actors are so cool they don't need to look at it.

  18. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    astroboffinry - I like this word

    That is all.

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