There really is such a thing as a champagne supernova

And yes, it was named after the Oasis song. This is a special, mysterious kind of stellar explosion that shouldn't, technically, exist. Learn all about the strange supernova, that was cause for such celebration that it was christened, both literally and figuratively, with champagne.

Here's how supernovas work. Inside a collapsing star, subatomic particles exert outward pressure on the material around them, keeping the star from complete collapse. If there's enough mass, about 1.4 solar masses, the outside material overcomes that pressure and collapses inward, hitting center and rebounding in the biggest explosion in the universe: a supernova. If the total mass of the star is below 1.4 solar masses, the balance holds and the star simply leaks off its heat and energy over the next few billion years with no nova.

This limit of 1.4 solar masses is called the Chandrasekhar Limit, after the brilliant astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who determined it. For a long time, this limit was the last word in which stars went supernova and which didn't. The limit works from both sides. If a large star is whittled down below the 1.4 solar masses before its final collapse, it hits up against the Chandrasekhar Limit and doesn't collapse at all. On the other hand, if a too-small white dwarf suddenly comes into some mass, it will explode as soon as it hits the 1.4 solar mass limit.

The problem is, with enough mass, time, and material, there are all kinds of ways to break limits. Astronomers observed a white dwarf of two solar masses explode and noticed that it had added mass, going from well below the Chandrasekhar Limit to well above it before exploding. That shouldn't be possible. Science being what it is, new puzzles and insights are to be celebrated, and so David Branch, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, dubbed this type of mysterious explosion a "Champagne Supernova," as a way of toasting a new way to look at the workings of the universe.

Why did the supernova hold off on exploding until well past the 1.4 solar mass limit? No one knows, exactly. There are a few speculations. Some think that the white dwarf was spinning so fast that centrifugal force thrust some mass away from the center and kept the whole thing from collapsing until it hit two solar masses. Others think that two white dwarfs merged and exceeded the limit for only a moment before the nova occurred.

But the mystery of these strange novas remains. Pop the cork of a champagne bottle, dust off that old Oasis CD, and think about it for a while.

Image: ESA/NASA

Via Space Daily.