Scientists discover zombie star that refuses to die

Scientists have discovered a supernova named iPTF14hls that refuses to die

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097 a Seyfert galaxy
Picture for representation Reuters

Researchers at the Las Cumbres Observatory, California have found a weird supernova that refuses to die. This Zombie star exploded many times in the past three years, and before that, it could have undergone two or three outbursts. The weird nature of this star is breaking all current scientific explanations related to a star's death. Earlier, scientists believed that if a star explodes even once, it will result in its death. But not in this case.

The star named iPTF14hls has remained brighter for a longer time when compared to other supernovas, and this has compelled the researchers to believe that it could be powered by the explosion taking place within itself. The study has been published in this week's Nature Magazine.

Researchers in a state of surprise

"Nobody expected a supernova with the properties we've seen, so in that sense, it has come as a complete surprise. We've shown it to hundreds of supernova specialists, and all are stumped," said Andy Howell, a member of the study team, Air Space Magazine reports.

Iair Arcavi of the University of California too shared the excitement and stated that a supernova is supposed to be a one-time thing; as when the star explodes once, it is dead, and it cannot explode again. According to Iair Arcavi, iPTF14hls is the weirdest supernova ever to catch the attention of space buffs and added that it is a star which keeps on dying all the time.

This zombie star was discovered by Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory, an automated search telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego. Initially, researchers considered this star an ordinary type 2 supernova which is located 500 million light years away from the Earth. The weird nature of this star was first noticed a few weeks back when it started growing brighter, which later turned out to be five irregular cycles of brightening and dimming.

Reason behind the zombie nature of iPTF14hls

In normal cases, a type 2 Supernova fades within 100 days, but in the case of iPTF14hls, things were different and it showed just the opposite behavior. iPTF14hls remained brighter for more than 600 days, and further research revealed that explosions are not killing this supernova.

According to Howell, iPTF14hls might be heavy enough that an explosion is not blowing apart the entire supernova. Instead, the remnants of the star settle down, and it keeps on living.

"The remnants of the star can settle back down and keep on living. Then the star's core gets hot enough to do it again. It can keep doing this several times, before finally blowing up as a normal supernova," said Howell, quoted Air Space Magazine.