NASA’s STEREO spots a new nova

May 01, 2012
NASA’s STEREO spots a new nova
STEREO-B image of Sagittarii 2012 (STEREO/SECCHI/NASA/NRL)

While on duty observing the Sun from its position in solar orbit, NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft captured the sudden appearance of a distant bright object. This flare-up turned out to be a nova — designated Sagittarii 2012 — the violent expulsion of material and radiation from a re-igniting white dwarf star.

Unlike a supernova, which is the cataclysmic collapse and explosion of a massive star whose core has finally fused its last, a nova is the result of material falling onto the surface of a white dwarf that’s part of a binary pair. The material, typically hydrogen and helium gas, is drawn off the white dwarf’s partner which has expanded into a red giant.

Eventually the white dwarf cannot contain all of the material that it has sucked in from its neighbor… material which has been heated to tremendous temperatures on its surface as it got compressed further and further by the white dwarf’s incredibly strong gravity. Fusion occurs on the dwarf’s outermost layers, blasting its surface out into space in an explosion of light and energy.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

This is a nova — so called because, when witnessed in the night sky, one could suddenly appear as a “new star” in the heavens — sometimes even outshining all other visible stars!

An individual nova will soon fade, but a white dwarf can produce many such flares over time. It all depends on how rapidly it’s accreting material (and how much there is available.)

Over the course of 4 days, Sagittarii 2012 reached a magnitude of about 8.5… still too dim to be seen with the unaided eye, but STEREO-B was able to detect it with its SECCHI (Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation) instrument, which is sensitive to extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

The video above was made from images acquired from April 20 – 24, 2012.

It’s not known yet how far away Sagittarii 2012 is but rest assured it poses no threat to Earth. The energy expelled by a nova is nowhere near that of a supernova, and although you wouldn’t want to have a front-row seat to such an event we’re well away from the danger zone.

What this does show is that STEREO-B is not only a super Sun-watching sentinel, but also very good at observing much more distant stars as well!

Explore further: Astronomical forensics uncover planetary disks in Hubble archive

Related Stories

Binary white dwarf stars

May 04, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- When a star like our sun gets to be very old, after another seven billion years or so, it will no longer be able to sustain burning its nuclear fuel.

White Dwarf Stars Consume Rocky Bodies

Aug 16, 2011

“I love rocky road… So won’t you buy another gallon, baby…” Yeah. We all love rocky road ice cream, but what do stars like to snack on? In the case of the white dwarf star it would ...

Will V445 puppis become a Ia supernova?

Dec 06, 2010

As the “V” in the designation of V445 Puppis indicates, this star was a variable star located in the constellation of Puppis. It was a fairly ordinary periodic variable, although with a rather complex ...

The progenitor problem

Nov 28, 2011

With so much of our current understanding of the universe based on Type 1a supernovae data, a good deal of current research is focused upon just how standard these supposed standard candles are. To date, the ...

Feuding helium dwarfs exposed by eclipse

May 24, 2011

Researchers at the University of Warwick have found a unique feuding double white dwarf star system where each star appears to have been stripped down to just its helium.

Recommended for you

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

A star's early chemistry shapes life-friendly atmospheres

Apr 23, 2014

Born in a disc of gas and rubble, planets eventually come together as larger and larger pieces of dust and rock stick together. They may be hundreds of light-years away from us, but astronomers can nevertheless ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ParamJeet_Singh
2 / 5 (3) May 01, 2012
The sun been out riding with a friend..... they too saw it on lasco c2..... would you also like to have some beer &steak with him ?.....

More news stories

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

Google+ boss leaving the company

The executive credited with bringing the Google+ social network to life is leaving the Internet colossus after playing a key role there for nearly eight years.

Facebook woos journalists with 'FB Newswire'

Facebook launched Thursday FB Newswire, billed as an online trove of real-time information for journalists and newsrooms to mine while reporting on events or crafting stories.