Hungry, Hungry Universe

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This is Supernova 1994D. The supernova is the bright point in the lower-left. It is a type Ia thermonuclear supernova like those described by Howell. The supernova is on the edge of galaxy NGC 4526, depicted in the center of the image. Credit: NASA/Hubble Space TelescopeYou’ve heard of zombie humans and you’ve probably heard of zombie ants… but what about zombie stars? “Zombie stars” are stars that explode like bombs, die and then come back to life by sucking matter out of another star. These stars, known as Type Ia Supernovae, are more than just cool eating machines though. Andy Howell, adjunct professor of physics at UCSB and staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) recently wrote an article for Nature explaining how zombie stars can be used for determining astronomical distances, which is helping astronomers and physicists in the search for dark energy. 

Zombie stars aren’t exactly a new phenomenon. It’s known that stars run out of fuel and disintegrate until only the core of the star remains (known as a white dwarf). When a Type Ia Supernovae eats another star, it’s a white dwarf consuming matter from another star. Astronomers have also detected white dwarfs with an appetite for asteroids!  Stars eating stars, stars eating asteroids, black holes eating stars…the universe seems, well, hungry.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.