Stars do not live forever–they send their brilliant stellar fires out into space for millions to billions of years, but they are doomed roiling, glaring spheres of gas. When stars run out of their necessary supply of nuclear-fusing fuel, they are ready for their inevitable meeting with the Grim Reaper. Massive stars blast themselves to pieces in violent and brilliant core-collapse (Type II) supernovae, while small stars like our Sun may–or may not–pass away in relative peace. Small stars, like our Sun, can also go supernova–just like the big guys–but the conditions must be right in order for them to give this sort of brilliant farewell performance to the Cosmos. When a small sun-like star perishes in the noisy blast of a brilliant Type Ia supernova, it leaves behind a lingering ghost, which is termed a white dwarf star- the erstwhile small star’s relic core. A new study published in the August 10, 2019 issue of The Astrophysical Journal proposes that these ghostly remains of stars long gone still haunt stars that are living today.

Type Ia supernova is an explosion that ignites in binary stellar systems in which a duo of sister stars are in orbit around one another–and one of the stars is a white dwarf. The other star can by anything from a giant star to an even smaller white dwarf. The fatal blast in this type of binary system occurs because the stellar ghost has been gravitationally sipping up its sister star’s material, causing it to acquire enough mass to go critical. A second explosive scenario, also taking place in a binary system, occurs when a duo of white dwarf stars crash into one another.

White dwarfs are not all the same. These dense stellar ghosts can range from 50% of the mass of our Sun, to almost 50 times its mass. Solitary small stars like our Sun, die a quiet death. After a lonely small sun-like star has run out of its necessary hydrogen fuel to fuse, it puffs its beautiful multicolored shimmering layers of gas into the space between stars. However, its lingering core (the white dwarf) has remained intact, and it rests in peace at the heart of this lovely shroud of glimmering gas.

By studying the “fossil” relics of long-dead exploded white dwarfs, a team of astronomers, led by Dr. Evan Kirby of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, have found that white dwarfs in the early Universe frequently blasted themselves to pieces at lower masses than they do today. This discovery suggests that a white dwarf can explode as the result of a variety of triggers, and it does not necessarily have to reach critical mass before the fatal blast.

Fatal Attractions Among The Stars

All of the stars in the observable Universe, both large and small, live out their entire nuclear-fusing main-sequence “lives” by keeping a very delicate and necessary balance between two ancient foes–gravity and radiation pressure. The main-sequence refers to hydrogen-burning stars on the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram of Stellar Evolution. Main-sequence stars still have enough nuclear-fusing hydrogen fuel to keep themselves bouncy against the crush of their own gravity.

The outward push of a star’s radiation pressure forces everything away from the star, while simultaneously gravity tries to mercilessly pull everything inward. The radiation pressure of a star is the result of the process of nuclear-fusion which commences with the burning of hydrogen, the lightest and most abundant atomic element in the Cosmos, into helium–which is the second lightest. This process of stellar nucleosynthesis continually fuses increasingly heavier and heavier atomic elements out of lighter ones. Indeed, all of the atomic elements heavier than helium–termed metals in the jargon of astronomers–formed within the searing-hot nuclear-fusing cores of the billions of stars inhabiting our vast Universe. Alternatively, the heaviest metals of all–such as gold and uranium–form in the spectacular supernova explosions heralding the death of a star.

Many supernovae are triggered when a lone, especially massive star runs out of its necessary supply of nuclear-fusing fuel, and rips itself apart in a spectacular core-collapse explosion. The progenitor of a core-collapse (Type II) supernova is usually a massive star that contains an extremely heavy core that weighs-in at about 1.4 times solar mass. Smaller stars normally do not die this way. In fact, smaller stars live much longer than more massive stars. This is because less massive stars are not as hot, and hence burn their fuel more slowly, than their heavier stellar kin. Small stars of our Sun’s mass generally last for about 10 billion years. More massive stars, however, live fast and die young–frequently living for millions (as opposed to billions) of years.

Like all stars, our Sun is doomed to run out of its necessary hydrogen fuel. It is a middle-aged star of about 4.56 billion years of age, and it can continue to fuse hydrogen in its core for another 5 billion years, or so. 바카라사이트

When small stars, like our sun, finally have managed to fuse most of their necessary hydrogen fuel into heavier things, they first swell into glaring, bloated red giant stars. This evolved sun-like star at this late stage of development contains a worn-out heart composed of helium, surrounded by a shell in which there is still a small amount of hydrogen left to be burned into helium. This shell begins to travel outward, and the dying heart of the small star grows ever larger, as the star ages. At last, the helium heart begins to shrink. As it does so, its temperature soars at its center to the point that the helium is fused into the even heavier metal carbon. The star ends up with a very small, but extremely hot heart, that produces more energy that it did when it was still a hydrogen-burning star on the main-sequence. The star is now doomed, and its outer layers of gas are now swollen and red. The temperature at the glaring surface of this bloated red giant is cooler than it was when it was still a young star.

When small stars are like our Sun, and live alone, they die gently and beautifully–leaving their relic cores behind as white dwarf stars. However, when the star has company, explosive things can happen in the form of a Type Ia blast. These brilliant explosions hurl the former star’s newly forged elements out into space where they may be incorporated into later generations of stars.