by Charles Q.  Choi, Contributor


Scientists have detected what appears to be a stellar outburst from a pair of stars locked in a cosmic tryst within a shared veil of gas, a find that marks the first discovery of a long-sought type of space eruption.

Most outbursts from stars are lumped into two categories — novas or supernovas. A nova is a thermonuclear explosion from a white dwarfstar driven by fuel piled on from a companion star. Novas do not result in the destruction of their stars, but supernovas do.

Supernovas, which are bright enough to briefly outshine all the stars in their galaxies, happen in two known ways — type Ia supernovas occur after a white dwarf dies from gorging on too much fuel from a companion star, while type II supernovas take place after the core of a star runs out of fuel, collapses into an extraordinarily dense nugget in a fraction of a second, and then bounces and blasts outward.

However, over the years, scientists have recognized another class of outbursts that are brighter than novas but dimmer than supernovas. Investigators called these mysterious events intermediate-luminosity red transients, or ILRTs. [Top 10 Star Mysteries]

Now, researchers suggest the culprits behind these enigmas may lurk behind shrouds of gas.

“I find it extremely exciting that we have explained a class of events that previously no one knew what they were,” study lead author Natasha Ivanova, an astrophysicist at the University of Alberta in Canada, told “That does not happen very often in science.”


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