Researchers operating the Hubble telescope have observed an unusual supernova explosion that leaves behind what scientists call a "zombie star".
NASA said a team of astronomers had used the giant orbital telescope to capture images of a star system that, despite going supernova, produces surviving dwarf stars rather than obliterating everything involved.
Hubble spotted the supernova in galaxy NGC 1309 some 110 million light years from Earth. Following the event over a period of years, researchers found that in the aftermath of the explosion part of a dwarf star could be observed.
According to NASA, such "Type Iax" explosions are smaller and not as bright as the more common Type Ia explosions. While a Typ Ia explosion will destroy the star, bodies involved in the Iax explosion could survive on as partial dwarf or "zombie" stars in which the hydrogen has been blown away to expose a helium core.
The dwarf stars could help researchers to understand how supernova explosions occur by providing evidence to probe and ponder. NASA said astronomers have identified more than 30 such explosions.
"Type Ia’s are important because they're used to measure vast cosmic distances and the expansion of the universe. But we have very few constraints on how any white dwarf explodes," said Rutgers University researcher Saurabh Jha.
"The similarities between Type Iax's and normal Type Ia's make understanding Type Iax progenitors important, especially because no Type Ia progenitor has been conclusively identified."
The group is going to publish more data on their findings this week in the journal Nature. ®