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Messier 31 often shows a nova. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/P. Barmby (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA).

A nova is a star showing a sudden large increase in brightness and then slowly returning to its original state over a few months.

"This infrared composite image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Andromeda galaxy, a neighbor to our Milky Way galaxy. The main image (top) highlights the contrast between the galaxy's choppy waves of dust (red) and smooth sea of older stars (blue). The panels below the main image show the galaxy's older stars (left) and dust (right) separately. Spiral galaxies tend to form new stars in their dusty, clumpy arms, while their cores are populated by older stars."[1]

"The Spitzer view also shows Andromeda's dust lanes twisting all the way into the center of the galaxy, a region that is crammed full of stars. In visible-light pictures, this central region tends to be dominated by starlight."[1]

"Astronomers used these new images to measure the total infrared brightness of Andromeda. Because the amount of infrared light given off by stars depends on their masses, the brightness measurements provided a novel method for "weighing" the Andromeda galaxy. According to this method, the mass of the stars in Andromeda is about110 billion times that of the sun, which is in agreement with past calculations. This means the galaxy contains about one trillion stars (because most stars are actually less massive than the sun). For comparison, the Milky Way is estimated to hold about 400 billion stars."[1]

"A small, companion galaxy called NGC 205 is visible above Andromeda. Another companion galaxy called M32 can also been seen below the galaxy."[1]

"The Andromeda galaxy, also known as Messier 31, is located 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. It is the closest major galaxy to the Milky Way, making it the ideal specimen for carefully examining the nature of galaxies. On a clear, dark night, the galaxy can be spotted with the naked eye as a fuzzy blob."[1]

"Andromeda's entire disk spans about 260,000 light-years, which means that a light beam would take 260,000 years to travel from one end of the galaxy to the other. By comparison, the Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across. When viewed from Earth, Andromeda occupies a portion of the sky equivalent to seven full moons."[1]

"Because this galaxy is so large, the infrared images had to be stitched together out of about 3,000 separate Spitzer exposures. The light detected by Spitzer's infrared array camera at 3.6 and 4.5 microns is sensitive mostly to starlight and is shown in blue and green, respectively. The 8-micron light shows warm dust and is shown in red. The contribution from starlight has been subtracted from the 8-micron image to better highlight the dust structures."[1]

Novae are relatively common in the Andromeda galaxy (Messier 31).[2] Approximately several dozen novae (brighter than about apparent magnitude 20) are discovered in M31 each year.[2] The Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) tracks novae in M31, Triangulum Galaxy (M33), and Messier 81 (M81).[3]

Super soft X-ray sources[edit]

There are three SSXSs with bolometric luminosity of ~1038 erg/s that are novae: GQ Mus (BB, MW), V1974 Cyg (WD, MW), and Nova LMC 1995 (WD).[4] "Apparently, as of 1999 the orbital period of Nova LMC 1995 if a binary was not known."[5]

U Sco, a recurrent nova as of 1999 unobserved by ROSAT, is a WD (74-76 eV), Lbol ~ (8-60) x 1036 erg/s, with an orbital period of 1.2306 d.[4]

Luminous red novas[edit]

V838 Monocerotis in this real visual image from the Hubble Space Telescope is a prototypic luminous red nova. Credit: NASA, ESA and H.E. Bond (STScI).

A luminous red nova (abbr. LRN, pl. luminous red novae, pl.abbr. LRNe) is a stellar explosion thought to be caused by the merger of two stars. They are characterised by a distinct red colour, and a light curve that lingers with resurgent brightness in the infrared. Luminous red novae are not to be confused with standard novae, explosions that occur on the surface of white dwarf stars. The visible light lasts for weeks or months, and is distinctively red in colour, becoming dimmer and redder over time. As the visible light dims, the infrared light grows and also lasts for an extended period of time, usually dimming and brightening a number of times. Some astronomers believe it to be premature to declare a new class of stellar explosions based on such a limited number of observations. For instance, Pastorello et al. 2007[6] explained that the event may be due to a type II-p supernova and Todd et al. 2008[7] pointed out that supernovae undergoing a high level of extinction will naturally be both red and of low luminosity.

The first confirmed luminous red nova was the object M85 OT2006-1, in the galaxy Messier 85, first observed during the Lick Observatory Supernova Search, and its difference from known explosions such as novae and thermal pulses, and announced luminous red novae as a new class of stellar explosion.[8]

V1309 Scorpii is a luminous red nova that followed the merger of a contact binary in 2008.[9]

In January 2015, a luminous red nova was observed in the Andromeda Galaxy.[10]

On February 10, 2015, a luminous red nova, known as M101 OT2015-1 was discovered in the Pinwheel Galaxy.[11][12]

Dwarf novas[edit]

Dwarf nova HT Cas is seen in outburst (apparent magnitude, mag ~13.4) on November 2, 2010. Credit: Kevin Heider @ LightBuckets.
AAVSO light curve is of U Geminorum (SS Cygni type). Credit: Jimstars.
Light curve is of eclipsing dwarf nova HT Cassiopeiae during outburst, showing eclipses and superhumps (SU Ursae Majoris type). Credit: Alan Bedard.
Light curve is of Z Camelopardalis (Z Camelopardalis type). Credit: Lithopsian.

The top image on the right is a 2 minute exposure of dwarf nova HT Cas as seen with a 24" telescope on 2010 November 12. HT Cas was seen to outburst on 2010 November 2.43 at magnitude 12.4-12.9. The star ~30 arcseconds south is magnitude 13.9. HT Cas is about magnitude 13.4 in this image. The last well-observed outburst of this star was on 2008 January 10.

"The first known detection of a dwarf nova [U Geminorum, first light curve on the right by the American Association of Variable Star Observers, AAVSO] was recorded by Hind (1856), who describes how on 1855 December 15 he discovered a ninth-magnitude star in a field which he knew well and which he had been monitoring for 5 (!) years."[13]

A U Geminorum-type variable star, or dwarf nova is a type of cataclysmic variable star consisting of a close binary star system in which one of the components is a white dwarf that accretes matter from its companion.[14]

The mass transfer from the donor star is less than this increased flow through the disc, so the disc will eventually drop back below the critical temperature and revert to a cooler, duller mode.[15][16]

Dwarf novae are distinct from classical novae in other ways: (1) their luminosity is lower, and (2) they are typically recurrent on a scale from days to decades,[15] (3) the luminosity of the outburst increases with the recurrence interval as well as the orbital period; recent research with the Hubble space telescope suggests that the latter relationship could make dwarf novae useful standard candles for measuring cosmic distances.[15][16]

"Another dwarf nova (we now call it SS Cygni) was detected in 1886; by 1918 the number had increased to eight (Müller and Hartwig, 1918)".[13]

There are three subtypes of U Geminorum star (UG):[17]

  1. SS Cygni stars (UGSS, second light curve down on the right), which increase in brightness by 2-6 apparent magnitude (mag) in V band in 1–2 days, and return to their original brightnesses in several subsequent days.
  2. SU Ursae Majoris stars (UGSU, third light curve down on the right shows eclipsing dwarf nova HT Cassiopeiae during outburst, showing eclipses and superhumps), which have brighter and longer "supermaxima" outbursts, or "super-outbursts," in addition to normal outbursts. Varieties of SU Ursae Majoris star include ER Ursae Majoris stars and WZ Sagittae stars (UGWZ).[18]
  3. Z Camelopardalis stars (UGZ, fourth light curve down on the right), which temporarily "halt" at a particular brightness below their peak.

"Currently we know of some 200 dwarf novae and of several hundred nova-like stars and novae."[13]

"Joy pointed out (Joy 1954b) that the spectra of the dwarf novae SS Cyg and RU Peg were rather similar to those of AE Agr and that a physical relationship seemed possible. [In] intervals of about one year AE Aqr underwent outburst-like brightness increases, by one to two magnitudes (Zinner, 1938), that resemble dwarf nova outbursts [...] the explosive U Geminorum requires [...] two stars in a short-period orbit as a necessary, though not sufficient, condition."[13]

EY Cyg is a dwarf nova.[13]

"The most spectacular events in the lives of dwarf novae are the outbursts."[13]

"Instabilities on the surface of the white dwarf lead to nova eruptions."[13]

Dwarf novae are distinct from classical novae in other ways; their luminosity is lower, and they are typically recurrent on a scale from days to decades.[13]

The luminosity of the outburst increases with the recurrence interval as well as the orbital period.

Recurrent novas[edit]

A recurrent nova is produced by a white dwarf star and a red giant circling about each other in a close orbit. About every 20 years, enough material from the red giant builds up on the surface of the white dwarf to produce a thermonuclear explosion. The white dwarf orbits close to the red giant, with an accretion disc concentrating the overflowing atmosphere of the red giant onto the white dwarf. If the white dwarf accretes enough mass to reach the Chandrasekhar limit, about 1.4 solar mass, it may explode as a Type Ia supernova.

V1017 Sgr is a recurrent nova.[13]


Def. a "star which explodes, increasing its brightness to typically a billion times that of our sun, though attenuated by the great distance from our sun"[19] is called a supernova.

From the burst until it fades after some weeks or months a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span.[20]

The explosion expels most or all of a star's material[21] at a velocity of up to 30000 km/s (10% of light speed, powering a shock wave[22] into the interstellar medium.


Light curves are compared to normal supernovae. Credit: Lithopsian.

A hypernova is a type of stellar explosion with a luminosity 10 or more times higher than that of standard supernovae.[23]

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) were initially detected on July 2, 1967 by the Vela satellites which were capable of detecting explosions behind the moon, but the satellites detected a signal unlike that of a nuclear weapon signature, nor could it be correlated to solar flares.[24]

In February 1997, Dutch-Italian satellite BeppoSAX was able to trace GRB 970508 to a faint galaxy roughly 6 billion light years away.[25] From analyzing the spectroscopic data for both the burst and the galaxy, it was concluded that a hypernova was the likely cause and that same year, hypernovae were hypothesized in greater detail.[26]

The first hypernova observed was SN 1998bw, with a luminosity 100 times higher than a standard Type Ib.[27]

The first confirmed superluminous supernova connected to a gamma ray burst was when GRB 030329 illuminated the Leo constellation.[28] SN 2003dh represented the death of a star 25 times more massive than the sun, with material being blasted out at over a tenth the speed of light.[29]

In June 2018, AT2018cow was detected and found to be a very powerful astronomical explosion, 10 – 100 times brighter than a normal supernova.[30][31]

Today, it is believed that stars with M ≥ 40 M produce superluminous supernovae.[32]

SLSNe events use a separate classification scheme to distinguish them from the conventional type Ia supernova, Type Ib and Ic supernovae, and type II supernovae.[33]

(1) Hydrogen-rich SLSNe are classified as Type SLSN-II, with observed radiation passing through the changing opacity of a thick expanding hydrogen envelope; (2) Most hydrogen-poor events are classified as Type SLSN-I, with its visible radiation produced from a large expanding envelope of material powered by an unknown mechanism; and (3) A third less common group of SLSNe is also hydrogen-poor and abnormally luminous, but clearly powered by radioactivity from 56

Increasing number of discoveries find that some SLSNe do not fit cleanly into these three classes, so further sub-classes or unique events have been described; so many or all SLSN-I show spectra without hydrogen or helium but have lightcurves comparable to conventional type Ic supernovae, and are now classed as SLSN-Ic.[35] PS1-10afx is an unusually red hydrogen-free SLSN with an extremely rapid rise to a near-record peak luminosity and an unusually rapid decline.[36] PS1-11ap is similar to a type Ic SLSN but has an unusually slow rise and decline.[35]

Various light curves including hypernovas are compared to super novas in the diagram on the right.

A good example of a collapsar SLSN is SN 1998bw,[37] which was associated with the gamma-ray burst GRB 980425.

The "origin of 'long gamma ray bursts', the most powerful electromagnetic phenomena in the universe, [which] release as much energy in a second or so as the Sun will release over its entire lifetime [...] come from the visible surface of high-speed jets, emitted as massive stars tear themselves apart. [...] It’s known as 'photospheric' emission, where the rays come from the surface of the jets as they expand."[38]

"To us [supercomputer simulations of how the gamma rays were released] strongly suggests that photospheric emission is the emission mechanism of gamma-ray bursts."[39]

Symbiotic novas[edit]

Symbiotic novae are slow irregular eruptive variable stars with very slow nova-like outbursts with an amplitude of between 9 and 11 magnitudes. The symbiotic nova remains at maximum for one or a few decades, and then declines towards its original luminosity. Variables of this type are double star systems with one red giant, which probably is a mira variable,[40] and one white dwarf, with markedly contrasting spectra and whose proximity and mass characteristics indicate it as a symbiotic star. The red giant fills its Roche lobe so that matter is transferred to the white dwarf and accumulates until a nova-like outburst occurs, caused by ignition of thermonuclear fusion. The temperature at maximum is estimated to rise up to 200,000 K, similar to the energy source of novae, but dissimilar to the dwarf novae. The slow luminosity increase would then be simply due to time needed for growth of the ionization front in the outburst.[41]

It is believed that the white dwarf component of a symbiotic nova remains below the Chandrasekhar limit, so that it remains a white dwarf after its outburst.[41]

One example of a symbiotic nova is V1016 Cygni, whose outburst in 1971–2007 clearly indicated a thermonuclear explosion.[42] Other examples are HM Sagittae and RR Telescopii.[40]

"Though typical symbiotic systems consist of a M giant and a white dwarf companion, systems containing a G or K giant ("yellow symbiotic") are known as well."[43]

See also[edit]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 M31 (Apparent) Novae Page. IAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. Retrieved 2009-02-24.
  3. David Bishop. Extragalactic Novae. International Supernovae Network. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Greiner J (2000). "Catalog of supersoft X-ray sources". New Astron. 5 (3): 137–41. doi:10.1016/S1384-1076(00)00018-X. 
  5. Marshallsumter (March 8, 2013). Super soft X-ray source. San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
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  9. Tylenda, R.; Hajduk, M.; Kamiński, T.; Udalski, A.; Soszyński, I.; Szymański, M. K.; Kubiak, M.; Pietrzyński, G. et al. (2011). "V1309 Scorpii: Merger of a contact binary". Astronomy & Astrophysics 528: 114. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201016221. 
  10. M31N 2015-01a - A Luminous Red Nova, In: The Astronomer's Telegram. Retrieved 2015-03-18.
  11. PSN J14021678+5426205 in M 101, In: The Astronomer's Telegram.
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  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 C. La Dous (March 1994). "Observations and Theory of Cataclysmic Variables: On Progress and Problems in Understanding Dwarf Novae and Nova-Like Stars". Space Science Reviews 67 (1-2): 1-221. doi:10.1007/BF00750527. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
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  26. Paczynski. GRBs as Hypernovae. 
  27. Woosley (1998). "Gamma-Ray Bursts and Type Ic Supernovae: SN 1998bw". The Astrophysical Journal 516 (2): 788. doi:10.1086/307131. 
  28. Dado (2003). "The Supernova associated with GRB 030329". Astrophysical Journal 594 (2): L89–92. doi:10.1086/378624. 
  29. Krehl (2009). History of Shock Waves, Explosions, and Impact.
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  31. Anderson, Paul Scott (28 June 2018). Astronomers see mystery explosion 200 million light-years away - Supernovae, or exploding stars, are relatively common. But now astronomers have observed a baffling new type of cosmic explosion, believed to be some 10 to 100 times brighter than an ordinary supernova, In: Earth & Sky. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
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External links[edit]