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Hubble captures the first image of the surviving companion into a supernova



Although the Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 28th year in space earlier this week, the orbiting observatory is far from finished. According to a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal on March 28, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have turned the first photo of a surviving companion into a supernova.

The companion star's image, seen in the fading afterglow of a supernova that exploded about 40 million light-years across the galaxy NGC 7424, provides the most compelling evidence that some supernovae come from binary star systems. According to the study, the companion star of the Supernova was not just an innocent observer of the explosion. Instead, it was probably the instigator.

The supernova in question, SN 2001

ig, is considered a type IIb supernova with a stripped coat. This unusual type of supernova occurs when most of the hydrogen in a massive star is removed before exploding. In 1987, astronomer Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley, became the first person to identify this rare supernova generation. And since then, astronomers have been struggling to explain exactly how the supernovae, with their enveloped sheaths, actually lose their outer sheaths.

Originally, astronomers believed that the precursor stars of these supernovae lost their outer shells due to the incredibly strong and fast stellar winds. However, this theory seems incomplete, as the observers have not found enough precursor stars to make it the only possible scenario. "This was particularly bizarre because astronomers expected them to be the most massive and bright progenitor stars," said co-author Ori Fox, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, in a press release. "Moreover, the sheer number of stripped-coat supernovae is larger than predicted."

This discrepancy between prediction and observation prompted astronomers to postulate that splintered-envelope type IIb supernovae could instead be a result of binary pairs. "We know that most massive stars are binary pairs," said lead author Stuart Ryder, an astronomer at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) in Sydney. "Many of these binary pairs will interact and transmit gas from one star to another as their orbits bring them close together."

In the case of SN 2001ig, it is assumed that the companion star has evacuated almost all of the hydrogen from the outer shell of the precursor of the supernova. Since the outer region of a star is extremely efficient at transmitting energy from the nucleus to the outside, the absence of a shell can have dramatic effects. Especially in the course of millions of years, the companion star robbed so much material from the shell of the primary star that it created instability. This eventually led to the precursor star having to eject massive hydrogen gas casings at regular intervals to trigger an epic explosion.


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